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December 29, 2020 3:18 pm

Panel Calls for New Investigation Into ‘Toxic’ Antisemitism on London University Campus

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avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

An anti-Israel protest, at SOAS University of London, April 27, 2017. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr.

An independent appeals panel at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has recommended an investigation into allegations of a “toxic, antisemitic environment” at the school.

The appeal was made by Noah Lewis, an SOAS student who said he was profoundly affected by the antisemitic environment fostered by the school.

Lewis had won a previous judgment against SOAS, but appealed it because it did not address the issue of institutionalized antisemitism and a toxic atmosphere directed against Jewish students.

According to UK Lawyers for Israel, which assisted Lewis with his appeal, the student described a series of alleged incidents of antisemitic and anti-Zionist racism, including that: the Student Union (SU) consistently touted its commitment to the antisemitic BDS movement; all Jews on campus who were not anti-Israel were pejoratively labelled “Zionists”; Lewis’ proposed dissertation examining UN bias against Israel resulted in harassment from his peers, including being called a “Nazi”; students in SOAS refused to refer to Israel by name, instead calling it the “Zionist regime”; Lewis was told by another student that he shouldn’t be in SOAS due to his Zionist opinions; and that any factual defense of Israel was dismissed as “Zionist propaganda.”

Evidence was also presented from other Jewish SOAS students, who said they were “shocked by the amount of antisemitic attitudes on campus;” felt “unwelcome and uncomfortable at SOAS”; and called the attitude toward Israel “radically oppressive.”

One said, “The Student Union which represents the total student body, consistently fails to respect the identities of Jewish students on the same level as other minority groups.”

SOAS has reached a settlement with Lewis of 15,000 British pounds, after he asked for a refund of his tuition fees and expenses following his experience at the school.

The settlement will not affect any further investigation of institutionalized antisemitism at the school.

According to the minutes of a March 26th hearing, the panel stated that it had “considered the objection that it would be inappropriate for every complaint from any individual student to trigger a full scale and meticulous, perhaps external, investigation of the whole culture at the School and the Student Union. … But it also came to the view that in this instance, there was a prima facie case which did warrant such a full investigation.”

The panel recommended that the new investigation be conducted by a panel composed of people unconnected to SOAS or the SU, and should have the “confidence of the Jewish community.” It added that the selection process should involve the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and the UK government’s Independent Antisemitism Advisor, as well as an academic specializing in contemporary antisemitism.

Jonathan Turner, executive director of UK Lawyers for Israel Charitable Trust, commented, “The panel grasped the nettle and has set a benchmark of best practice which should be followed in other cases where there is prima facie evidence of an antisemitic environment.”

“We congratulate Noah Lewis on pursuing the complaint and hope that other students who experience antisemitism at universities will now be encouraged to object,” he added.

Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, which was also involved in the appeal, said, “What happened to Noah Lewis should never be considered acceptable at a place of higher learning. The Lawfare Project is glad to see that, with this settlement and continued investigation, SOAS is working to right this wrong and ensure that its Jewish students and faculty members can feel safe and welcome on campus.”

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