Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education 8:15 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, the report of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism makes disturbing reading and the Government were absolutely right in their response when they compared the current rhetoric about Israel and Zionism with ancient forms of hatred towards Jews. Anti-Semitism anywhere is unacceptable, but it is particularly disturbing when it is found on our university campuses. Higher education institutions are nothing if they do not nurture the fair, open and inquisitive exchange of ideas and development of thought. This can be achieved only in an environment of tolerance and respect for one another.

Vice-chancellors should be given every possible support to assist them in rooting out intolerance. Can the Minister tell us what discussions have been held to help them with this? We hope that in this task, universities will harness the passion of the National Union of Students, which has a long tradition of standing up against oppression and has the knack of putting its finger on uncomfortable truths. The union has a large part to play in promoting openness and generosity, which, I am sad to say, is in stark contrast to a handful of lecturers who seem to have hijacked their union. It is quite wrong that there should be any question of banning contacts between Israeli and British academics. It makes us look unfairly biased and petty-minded, and plays into the hands of radical fanatics on campus, allowing them to stoke up anti-Semitic feeling. Such conduct can only serve to diminish the standing of British academic life.

There is a time and a place for teenage gesture politics; this is not it. This is a time for building bridges, opening up dialogue and promoting tolerance. I fervently hope that the moderate members of UCU will seize back their union.