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School of Oriental and African Studies: EuroPal Forum

Department for Education written question – answered on 23rd March 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of SOAS University of London’s compliance with the (1) public sector equality duty, and (2) International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, further to the decision to host a student workshop on advocacy for Palestine on campus on 7 March sponsored by EuroPal Forum; and what assessment they have made of (a) EuroPal Forum’s, and (b) EuroPal Forum’s senior leadership’s, relationship with Hamas.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

This government has committed to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities and ensure they are places where free speech and debate can thrive – this includes considering the underpinning legal framework. We have made it clear that if universities do not uphold free speech, the government will.

However, there is no place in our society - including within higher education (HE) – for hatred or any form of harassment, discrimination or racism, including antisemitism. The government will continue to work with universities to ensure we stamp out antisemitism in all its forms.

The government expects HE providers to take their responsibilities, including those under the Equality Act 2010 and for freedom of speech, seriously. We expect HE providers to have robust policies and procedures in place to meet, and balance, their legal obligations effectively and to investigate and swiftly address reports of hate crime, including any antisemitic incidents that are reported.

We expect HE providers to have clearly set out procedures and policies for events and the hosting of external speakers, which allow for open, transparent events, challenge and debate and ensure that lawful speech can occur on campuses. Under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, HE providers have a legal duty to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure freedom of speech within the law for their members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

The government does not support blanket no-platforming of individuals or organisations. There have been some examples of attempts to restrict free speech under the banner of no-platforming or safe spaces and it is important that this does not become commonplace.

The government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism in 2016 and has written to HE providers on several occasions encouraging them to consider adopting this definition. The government sees the IHRA definition as an important tool in tackling antisemitism and a strong signal that HE providers take these issues seriously, which is why we will continue to call on higher education providers to adopt this definition.

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