St Andrews University rector sent students links to Hamas-supporting websites

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St Andrews University rector sent students links to Hamas-supporting websites

Principal appears to back Stella Maris but pressure increases on rector to resign from pastoral and advocacy role after she accuses students of weaponisng antisemitism against her

St Salvator's Quad at St Andrews and, inset, Stella Maris. Photograph: University of St Andrews
St Salvator's Quad at St Andrews and, inset, Stella Maris. Photograph: University of St Andrews

The principal of St Andrews University appeared to stand by its rector this week after Jewish students claimed that she had “misled” them over an email that accused Israel of “apartheid” and “genocide”.

On Monday the two figures issued a joint statement in an effort to defuse the growing row, saying they intended to take part in mediation following the “serious issue which is dividing our community”.

Stella Maris has been heavily criticised for her four-page email to students about the Israel-Hamas war and for her subsequent remarks online. She has responded by suggesting that she is a victim of intimidation and by saying she would continue “speaking truth to power”– leading one alumna to say Maris had played into the antisemitic trope of Jewish power.

In Monday’s statement, instead of apologising, Prof Dame Sally Mapstone appeared to defend the rector, saying: “I wish to unreservedly condemn the abuse she has received from sources outside the university.” Jewish News has seen no evidence of abuse.

Maris’ email, sent to all students on 21 November, said Palestinians had suffered “apartheid, siege, illegal occupation and collective punishment”.

It differed markedly from the draft version she had sent to representatives of the Scottish university’s JSoc the previous evening. Annie Gishen, 22, a fourth-year undergraduate, who was president of the JSoc last year, said there had been “back and forth” emails between the rector and the JSoc before her email was sent. “She basically misled us all. [The draft email] didn’t accuse Israel of genocide. It was very different.”

In her email, Maris also included a link to a website which carried a story headlined: “The evidence Israel killed its own citizens on Oct 7,” the BBC has reported.

Maris, 25, and a graduate of the university, is the youngest rector of recent times. She was elected to the three-year role by the students on 10 October. The role includes providing pastoral support to the student community.

An attachment to her email to students had a series of links to pro-Palestinian Instagram accounts that included: Yara Eid, who accuses Israel in almost every post of genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid; Bayan Abusultan, whose Instagram bio says “from the river to the sea”; and Wael Al Dahdouh, who has posted a reel saying the Jews are inflicting on the population of Gaza the “same crimes” inflicted on them in the Holocaust.

The university issued a statement last Friday saying it regretted that Maris’ “message, the language it used, and some of the sources it cited have caused alarm, division, and harm in our community, and more widely”.

Students, alumni and others have signed an open letter to the rector accusing her of abusing her position.

Stella Maris’ response to a an Instagram post by St Andrews University’s Jewish Society

The letter says: “We are deeply shocked at the way in which you appear to justify the acts of terrorism witnessed on 7th October, where you have appealed to the student body to ‘appreciate the deep-seated grievances and frustrations’ behind said actions.

“No grievance or frustration can ever justify the atrocities of that day, and any suggestion otherwise carries the implication that violence against Jews or Israelis is somehow acceptable. This has borne out in the form of a 10-fold increase in antisemitic hate crimes across the UK.”

On LinkedIn, the rector again claims to be ‘speaking truth to power’, apparently referring to Jewish critics accusing her of antisemitism, and announces her refusal to engage with them

On her LinkedIn profile, Maris has accused Jews of trying to intimidate her into silence and says of her critics: “You can let them know that they won’t receive a response from me so they might as well stop.”

Jewish students at the university have spoken of feeling “pretty isolated” by the events in a town which has no synagogue. “We are the only Jews in St Andrews,” said Gishen. “We have the chaplains but they are in Edinburgh.”

In the past, rectors at the university have been public figures with a record of achievement. Previous rectors include the journalists Andrew Neil and Katharine Whitehorn, the novelist CP Snow and, in the 19th century, the philosopher John Stuart Mill and the statesman AJ Balfour, who issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

St Andrews University has confirmed that Maris will be attending the university’s graduation ceremonies this week. Maris has been contacted for comment.

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