Jewish students at universities are “denying or hiding” their
identity because of discrimination, according to new claims.
The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (Scojec) said it had evidence
university staff had criticised student work on Israel because they did not
agree with the point of view being expressed.
The council, which is the representative body for Jewish communities
across Scotland, also said Jewish students had been “hounded” for not
attending medical lectures on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at nightfall on
One student told Scojec: “I was told by my university that either I
sit exams on Shabbat or I fail.”
In another case, a student said she no longer went to the business
school or library and was worried about attending classes “due to fear of
being harassed or attacked”.
Scojec also accused universities of not taking action when concerns had
been raised adding: “It is troubling that when the Jewish Student
Chaplaincy Scotland has intervened with the support of Scojec to assist Jewish
students who find themselves subject to abuse, our concerns have been dismissed
by senior university staff who appear not to recognise that there have been
The allegations emerged as the Scottish Parliament scrutinises the
Scottish Government’s Higher Education Governance Bill, which proposes a new
definition of academic freedom. Scojec is concerned the new definition will
make it harder for the rights of students to be defended in future.
Its official submission to the committee states: “We are aware of
occasions when the academic freedom of both individual students and properly
registered student organisations have been suppressed, in some cases by members
of academic staff.
“We have evidence that the manner in which some academic and
research staff have expressed views about the situation in the Middle East has
contributed to both Jewish and Israeli students feeling compelled to deny or
hide their Jewish identity at the very time in their lives when they should
have the freedom to explore it.
“The issue is not that
some academic and research staff hold views about the situation in the Middle
East – that is their right. Nor is it simply that they have expressed those
views in public – what concerns us greatly is the manner in which some staff
have done so.”
The submission also highlights public campaigns against universities
when they seek research collaborations with Israeli academic institutions and
staff and student protests over visits from prominent Israelis.
Examples include a visit in 2011 to Edinburgh University by a senior
diplomat from the Israeli Embassy in London which was disrupted by critics.
Last year, Glasgow University was criticised by Israeli Embassy
spokesman Yiftah Curiel for failing to adequately defend freedom of speech
during his visit.
Vonnie Sandlan, president of student body NUS Scotland, said
universities should be places of open learning and the sharing of ideas.
She said: “Everyone should have the right to hold firm political
beliefs and undertake protest to achieve them, but that needs to stop short of
behaviour which is unlawful, or intimidating and distressing.”
A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents principals,
said the sector had a “statutory and moral responsibility” to foster
good relations and eliminate harassment and victimisation.
She added: “A university environment encourages debate and
discussion of what can sometimes be very difficult and sensitive topics, but
universities expect ’ views to be expressed respectfully.”