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March 12, 2019 4:54 pm

Student Leaders at University of Leeds Fail to Pass Antisemitism Resolution, Triggering Campus-Wide Referendum, Outcry From Jewish Community

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The University of Leeds in England. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) has criticized student leaders at the University of Leeds, England, for failing on Monday night to pass a resolution on combating antisemitism.

The motion, brought forward to the Leeds University Union (LUU) by student Emma Jacobs on behalf of the Leeds Jewish Society, was supported by 10 students and rejected by five, failing to get the 12 votes necessary to pass or fail. Per LUU rules, it will now be subject to a campus-wide referendum.

“When I put forward this motion to [LUU] vote I didn’t expect to spend over an hour being sniggered at when I said I wouldn’t withdraw a motion to combat antisemitism,” Jacobs wrote on Twitter on Monday. “I’m disappointed. It’s exhausting being a Jewish student and I wouldn’t wish this on any other group.”

Titled, “Should LLU do more to combat antisemitism,” the resolution pointed to record-high levels of antisemitism logged across the United Kingdom by the Community Security Trust charity in 2016 and 2017, including on campuses with the appearance of “swastikas, ‘Hitler was right’ stickers, and issues of antisemitism within student societies.”

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“As a campus with one of the largest Jewish student populations in the UK, LUU must ensure that Jewish students can feel safe on campus and are free to fully express their Jewish identities without fear,” the motion read.

Proposed actions included training LUU officers on issues involving Jewish students and antisemitism, holding Holocaust Memorial Day activities, and adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has also been endorsed by the UK government, the National Union of Students and the Conservative and Labour parties.

The definition provoked an intense debate among Labour members before it was adopted, with some criticizing its inclusion of antisemitic rhetoric targeting Israel and denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

In a statement on Monday, the Leeds Jewish Society said it was “incredibly disappointed” that the LUU motion did not pass. “We will not cower,” the society said. “Jewish students have a right to feel safe on campus.”

LUU responded to the controversy the following day by affirming that every student at the forum “agreed antisemitism was unacceptable.”

“However, there was debate both for and against adopting all of the examples listed with the IHRA definition,” the union said in a statement. “Within our democratic system, 75% of the student panel have to vote yes for an idea to pass or no for it to fail. If an idea does not get 75%, it may proceed to a campus-wide referendum.”

UJS — which represents more than 60 societies in the UK — said in its own statement on Tuesday that it was “shocking and yet no longer surprising that supposed anti-racists and activists could not vote in sufficient numbers to support Jewish people defining their own oppression and adopting the measures and actions that they demand to keep them safe on campus.”

The Leeds Labour Students Committee extended solidarity with Leeds JSoc over the ordeal on Tuesday, noting in a statement that Jewish people, “like any minority, should be free to define their own oppression.”

“It should not be up for a vote, during which the entire student population (the vast majority of whom are not Jewish), will have a say,” the committee added.

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