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November 29, 2016 2:28 pm

Victim of Verbal, Physical Assault at Cambridge University Decries College’s Refusal to Acknowledge Antisemitic Nature of Attack

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Cambridge University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Cambridge University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A Jewish student who was recently the victim of an attack at Cambridge University accused the school on Tuesday of “setting a dangerous precedent” after it denied that the assailants were motivated by antisemitism.

Hughes Hall student Shlomo Roiter-Jesner — one of three kippah-wearing students verbally and physically assaulted by members of Christ’s College sporting societies  —  told The Algemeiner he found it “positively shocking” that the head of Christ’s College, Professor Jane Stapleton, “categorically rejected the antisemitic nature” of the incident in a recent email she sent out to the campus community.

Responding to media reports of a cover-up at Cambridge, Stapleton wrote that the college has “no corroborating evidence” that any students involved had exhibited antisemitic behavior, adding, “I personally condemn in the strongest possible terms antisemitic, racist or any other form of discriminatory abuse.”

Roiter-Jesner told The Algemeiner that he is “not out for revenge or punishment,” but is “concerned with how future antisemitic events on campus will be treated.” 

“While Cambridge is a comfortable place to be a Jew,” he said, “there is a general sentiment of callousness when it comes to antisemitic and anti-Israel incidents, which are treated very poorly.”

“It’s not a question of if, but when the next incident occurs, and based upon the school’s reaction to my complaint, I can’t even begin to imagine how it will react to subsequent ones,” he said.

Roiter-Jesner originally spoke out about the attack in an interview with the UK’s Daily Telegraph on Sunday, after Christ’s College cleared the perpetrators of all suspicion of antisemitic and racist behavior.

Last month, Roiter-Jesner said he and his friends accidentally walked into a private sporting society party at a student union building. While attempting to leave, “all of a sudden, they [the perpetrators] were shouting, ‘Jew, get the f*** out of here.’ We tried to leave but they were yelling at us,” he said.

Another victim — a Jewish student who wished to remain anonymous — told the newspaper that he sent an email to Stapleton the day after the attack, recounting the abuse he and his friends had endured:

We, and other bystanders, heard a number of vicious antisemitic slurs including “f****** Jews, you don’t belong here,” “dirty Jews” and to myself, “f*** off darkie.” They then proceeded to try and choke my friend with his scarf, leaving him gasping for oxygen, and to push me and the third friend around, despite our attempts to de-escalate the situation. They eventually went back in after threatening to “smash our faces in.”

Footage of the attack was captured on security cameras, but the lack of accompanying audio prevented internal investigators from hearing the alleged verbal slurs. After the perpetrators were questioned — and denied they had used antisemitic epithets — Stapleton informed Roiter-Jesner that two students were “disciplined.” But, according to Roiter-Jesner, she refused to divulge their identity or the nature of their punishment.

Roiter-Jesner said that though he can understand why Stapleton, due to the absence of audio, was unable to determine definitively what was said during the violent exchange, “In a situation where it becomes one person’s word against another, no one is in a position to deny the potential that maybe there was some sort of antisemitism involved in this case.”

“If this had happened to a member of any other minority, I don’t think anyone at Cambridge would have dared question the authenticity of their story,” he said.

News of the attack comes as the country grapples with rising antisemitism across its college campuses. According to a spokesman from Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) — an advocacy group that aided Roiter-Jesner in the aftermath of the event — what happened at Cambridge is “not an isolated incident.”

“Our experience with Cambridge is simple acquiescence to antisemitic behavior. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that there is a systemic, antisemitic structure in place at British universities whose sole aim is to harass and intimidate Jewish students,” the spokesman told The Algemeiner.

The UK has a “long and glorious history of protecting Jews,” the spokesman said, and it’s “high time for British society to call for a halt to the intimidation of Jews at our universities.”

The worsening state of antisemitism in the UK has garnered international headlines over the last months. The country’s Labour Party, as The Algemeiner reported, has been the source of constant controversy over its “white-washing” of antisemitism within party ranks. On the campus front, as The Algemeiner has extensively reported, the head of the country’s largest student union has come under repeated fire for undermining efforts to combat Jew-hatred on campuses and failing to take seriously concerns of Jewish students. 

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  • Joseph Feld

    SOAS, KIng’s College London and Cambridge have shared a problem of late — disciplinary procedures when students cross red lines. Justice must be seen to be done, just as much in a world class university as anywhere else. The problem is that in the universities in question, there appears to be a confidentiality clause built in to disciplinary procedures. In each case students disciplined are not named and no details of discipline are revealed, nothing beyond ‘two students have been disciplined’. When asked what that means it was revealed that sanctions can mean anything from a warning to suspension or expulsion, payment for any damage done, to a fine payable to a charity and community service. Regarding the Cambridge case, it appears there were witnesses to the anti-Semitic abuse and the attempt to choke one student, even if the closed circuit television did not have sound. Did the investigation include interviewing witnesses before concluding there was no evidence of anti-Semitism? It seems obvious to me as an educator that an internal investigation concealed by a confidentiality clause is going to do its best to protect the college’s good name. Here in the UK anti-Semitism is NOT ‘protected speech’ and can be criminal.

  • Duvid Crockett

    It has always been like this at Cambridge. One has only to review the “Chariots of Fire” movie, where Harold Abrahams experienced dons’ anti-semitism at Caius College in the early 20s. Doubtless if one were to write to the vice-chancellor about it one would receive a cheerful and immaculately-expressed brush-off. Vote with your wallet. Send your children to a US university instead.