Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:03 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour 8:03 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to comment on a current and important issue for our society. That is evidenced by the exceptionally large number of speakers tonight. Unfortunately, it means that we all need to be very brief and selective.

I congratulate the committee on a valuable report. It is often said that it is not easy to differentiate between anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic opinions. I can only say that it is really not that difficult. In my experience, you get the message very quickly. One of the challenges for all campuses is to provide an arena for open intellectual debate for students from different backgrounds and prejudices, without allowing extremist groups to exploit and subvert them. As the committee says:

"While criticism of Israel—often hard-hitting in the rough and tumble of student politics—is legitimate, the language of some speakers too often crosses the line into generalised attacks on Jews".

Some of us watched in horror last January a chilling "Dispatches" programme filmed secretly in some mosques not known for any extremism, where visiting preachers hurled lethal invective against non-Muslims in general but Jews in particular—not Zionists, not Israel but Jews. I was struck by how many young men and boys were in those congregations. Those are the young who go on to campuses accustomed to that kind of language and thinking, which makes it all the more essential that events and activities on campus should not encourage those attitudes which, apart from anything else, can lead to terrorist activity. It is vital that the Government make it a priority to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent that poison seeping on to campuses.

What steps are the Government taking to ascertain what progress is being made on achieving good practice on campuses beyond merely, as stated in the response, encouraging UUK and the committee to co-operate on trying to achieve that?