Jewish students at Cardiff University have said they do not feel safe on campus after an AGM of the student union overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for “a ceasefire now”.
The densely-worded resolution did not refer to the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, but called for the union to hold education events which would include teaching students “how to spot lies and propaganda from the state of Israel and the Israel Defence Forces”.
Such “lies and propaganda” would include, the proposers of the motion say, “biblical justification of the occupation of Palestine, extent of the damage to Israel, location of Hamas bases, etc”.
A spokesperson for the university said that authorities were “deeply concerned” by the response of Jewish students and that its deputy vice-chancellor was holding meetings with the Jewish Society to discuss the situation. In a statement, the university said that it had “written to all students to reiterate the absolute need to behave with dignity and respect to all and setting out our zero-tolerance attitude to harassment and discrimination of all kinds on campus”.
The spokesperson added that “the university is already undertaking a review of student behaviours at the AGM and other university events, and we remain in close contact with our students’ union. This review remains on-going and will be published in due course”.
Members of Cardiff JSoc put out a statement on social media after the AGM. They said: “We, the Jewish students who wanted to speak on this motion, were intimidated, abused, and harassed. We were left shaking in our seats. Two Jewish students had panic attacks. One student, who took the stage to make the case for peace and dialogue, was shouted down, and had to be escorted from the debate for his own safety.
“We now fear for our security on campus and we feel unsafe walking between lectures. Jewish voices were silenced. We just want to be able to do the things that all other students do. Despite this, we will not be silent. We refuse to be intimidated into not being proud of our Jewish identity. In a previous meeting with the university, they found it hard to believe that Jewish students were having a difficult time on campus. Do you understand now?”
In a lengthy response, Cardiff University Students’ Union insisted that “no students were escorted from the meeting for their own safety”. The union said it was “saddened to hear about the upset and fear from the Jewish student community since the AGM. To be clear, the Students’ Union will not tolerate any form of discrimination and is committed to supporting Jewish students to feel safe on campus”.
The union spokesperson said that “we take our responsibility to uphold freedom of speech very seriously, and in preparation for the AGM, many actions were undertaken to ensure students were aware of their role in ensuring that the meeting could be conducted respectfully. However, as students were informed, freedom of speech is not absolute and we are committed to act against any behaviours that lead to hate or discrimination, whether in our democratic meetings or in wider SU activity”.
The union warned, however, that there was no guarantee for any student or student group to have a right of reply to a proposed motion. “Speakers are picked at random by the chair and this is made clear to students attending in advance of the meeting”, the union told Jewish News.
Without identifying the source, the union said that “at times during the meeting, students were vocal in response to some of the speakers, which we understand created a challenging environment for some…Where we were able to identify students shouting abusive language, we removed them immediately”.
The president of the union had held a meeting with JSoc in the wake of the AGM “to listen to concerns from the group and to offer support and action moving forward”.
Another motion, entitled “A better and more inclusive university”, was tabled by the president of the Islamic Society and supported by JSoc, the union said. It “noted the SU’s commitment to the IHRA definition of antisemitism and adopted the MEND definition of Islamophobia, and sets out a commitment to improving students’ experiences on campus”.
All the adopted motions have been sent to Cardiff union’s board of trustees, who will “endorse or reject the AGM’s proposed actions to ensure that they fit within the Students’ Union charitable objects.”
In the controversial “ceasefire” motion, students were advised that “just condemning Hamas or just condemning Israel is not enough, both need to be criticised accordingly”. But the motion refers only to Hamas’s action in taking hostages “as a negotiation tactic” as a “violation of international law”, but says that “ due to Israeli airstrikes, some of these hostages have lost their lives”.
There is no mention of the Hamas murders or rapes of Israelis, but there is extensive quotation from an Amnesty International report, in which the proposers say there is “damning evidence of a system of apartheid imposed by Israel on Palestinian people”.
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