St Andrews University’s genocide row rector suggests she is threefold victim

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St Andrews University’s genocide row rector suggests she is threefold victim

Stella Maris reposts accusations of anti-black racism, Islamophobia and misogyny as barrister argues she must resign or be removed after being elected on a platform of unification and then creating division

The cloisters of St Salvator's Quadrangle and (inset) the rector Stella Maris. Picture: St Andrews University
The cloisters of St Salvator's Quadrangle and (inset) the rector Stella Maris. Picture: St Andrews University

The rector of St Andrews University has expressed her support for a group who say criticism of her letter to students accusing Israel of ‘genocide’ makes her a victim of anti-black racism, Islamophobia and misogyny.

This week the president of the university’s African Caribbean Society wrote to members claiming that Stella Maris, as a member of the black community, is “subject in anything and everything she does to the unequal scrutiny and general animosity with which we are all familiar”.

Signed by the society’s president, Isaac Pickrum, the letter does not mention Jews, Israel, Hamas or the atrocities of 7 October.

It states: “Communities such as ours easily empathise with Palestinian strife because we know our own histories of ghettoisation, apartheid, and genocide. In this way, Rector Maris has done a great service to our community and given profound respect to our histories; yet, she faces abhorrent and unconstructive judgment.

“Allow me to remind you, that when this nation sent its rslavers [sic] and merchants of death, to defile the people and the land, there was seldom a voice of contradiction or contrition in these halls of power – we cannot accept these forms of silence when there are people today who are subject to the same destruction of our own history.” Maris reposted the letter to her Instagram page.

The rector has been heavily criticised for her four-page email to the student body, sent shortly after she started in the role, about the Israel-Hamas war and for her subsequent remarks online. She has responded by saying that she would continue “speaking truth to power” and by accusing Jewish students of trying to intimidate her into silence. She has written on LinkedIn: “You can let them know that they won’t receive a response from me so they might as well stop.”

Maris’s email to students included a page of links, including one to the Electronic Intifada. Following criticism, she removed that link, and apologised for “any distress it caused”, but she has failed to apologise for sending it and has defended her inclusion of it, saying it was backed up by evidence. The BBC has reported that the link was to a website which carried a story headlined: “The evidence Israel killed its own citizens on Oct 7.”

In a statement, the university said it regards the issue as “of the utmost gravity for the university, and for the rector”, and that this assurance was offered by the principal, Dame Sally Mapstone, in person to the JSoc students.

The statement added: “We are also listening to the concerns and perspectives of our Palestinian and BAME students.

“Student testimonies are being considered fully in the context of the steps the university is taking to address the concerns raised about the rector’s message, and her subsequent comments and actions.”

Maris said on Wednesday she had not intended to cause distress. “During the process of drafting my [email] statement [on the war] I consulted with a number of student bodies, including the Jewish Society. The final draft was a result of my attempts to incorporate feedback from multiple, and sometimes divergent, voices and opinions.”

She added that she was committed to students’ wellbeing. “I strongly condemn antisemitism and any other form of hate crime.”

A barrister, Jeremy Dein KC, who is acting for the students has argued strongly that Maris must either resign or be removed.

Some Jewish students are feeling deeply distressed at what they have perceived as a defence of the rector and a failure to understand their fear and sense of isolation. At least one has reported to the university a serious instance of antisemitism.

Dein said: “The apology issued by the rector is self-indulgent and focuses principally on her own distress. She appears to maintain the claim that Jews murdered Jews on 7 October and to give respectability to it. On this basis, the need for her to be removed or to resign is fortified. She should not remain in place under any circumstances.

“She was elected on a platform of unification. By her words and actions she has divided. There is no evidence of genuine remorse, just an overwhelming desire to retain her role.”

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