The Jewish Chronicle
University chief sets up JSoc after 200 students say no
THE UNION of Jewish Students (UJS) has praised the “swift, strong and supportive action” taken by the University of Essex in establishing a Jewish society “with immediate affect” after public outrage over a poll in which hundreds of students voted against the creation of a JSoc.
Last week, students were given the ability to vote on the question, “Should there be a Jewish society?”, on the basis that all student organisations are subject to similar ratification.
Before the poll was abruptly cancelled, over a third of respondents, more than 200 students, had voted against a JSoc. Sixty four per cent had voted in favour.
Additionally, an academic at the university, Dr Maaruf Ali, who had expressed open opposition to the proposed JSoc, was found to have shared antisemitic and Holocaust denial material online, including a quote from a far-right antisemite claiming: “In all of German occupied Europe, there resided 2.4 million Jews before the war, according to the world Jewish encyclopedia”, but that “after the war, 3.8 million Jewish ‘Holocaust survivors’ were receiving pensions from the German government.”
Last Friday, Professor Anthony Forster, vicechancellor of the university, made it clear that a Jewish society would be created on campus, “irrespective of any ratification by the Student’s Union”. Subsequently, the Student Union’s Sabbatical officer team met university trustees and jointly made a decision “to immediately ratify the Jewish society”. Commenting on the “serious allegations” against Dr Ali, Prof Forster also confirmed that he had been suspended while “an independent investigation of these allegations has been initiated”.
He also said he had “asked the Deputy Vice-Chancellor to lead a review asking our Jewish students and staff to share their experiences of studying, living and working at Essex”.
UJS, which had said it was “shocked” by attempts to prevent the establishment of a JSoc, had worked closely with Jewish students on campus looking to establish the society.
The Amnesty International society urged studetns to vote against a JSoc, saying that the manifesto of the planned Jewish society showed it would not be “politically neutral” on the subject of Israel, and urged people “to please vote no until they are politically neutral... Judaism should not be conflated with Israel, as this is problematic with the rights of all in Palestine [sic].”
UJS described this view as “ignorant or prejudiced.
“They refer to the Jewish society including education about Israel and Zionism as having a ‘political stance’ and repeatedly suggest they know best how to define a Jewish society as a ‘religious society’,” a UJS spokesperson said.
“They arrogantly deem fit to dictate that celebrating Israeli national festivals has ‘nothing to do with Judaism’ and ‘Judaism should not be conflated with Israel’.
“Just as there are atheist Jews, a Jewish society will still offer Jewish religious services and education. In the same sense, while there may be Jewish students who do not support the Israeli state, offering education on Israel in the broadest sense and opportunities to engage with the world’s only Jewish state must be part of what is offered from a Jewish society.”
After the vice-chancellor’s comments, UJS “commended the swift, strong and supportive action taken, including suspension of the staff member in question and a full investigation.
“We look forward to seeing the progress of a review into support for Jewish students and staff. Assurances of the establishment of a Jewish society regardless of the vote are most welcome.
“There is certainly still a long way to go until antisemitism is eradicated from university campuses, but we are heartened that these steps will make a significant impact on improving the lives of Jewish students at the University of Essex.”