12 March 2017
SOAS is extremely concerned about any allegations of anti-Semitism at our School. Diversity is key to the SOAS mission and we want all our students to feel welcome and supported in their studies. That is why we are actively taking steps to address recent concerns that have been raised by some of our Jewish students.
As an institution, we do not seek to close down debate or shy away from discussion of issues which are complex or difficult. It is important that academic institutions enable debates to take place in a secure and well-managed way. We are a place where the free and respectful exchange of ideas and opinions should thrive.
Our Director and our Registrar have met on a number of occasions in recent weeks with the President of the SOAS Jewish students’ society. At some meetings the National Union of Jewish Students and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism have also been present.
We are receiving from UJS examples of best practice on how to tackle anti-Semitism on campus and improve the management of events held on campus, since concerns have been raised about the management of some events which have been held by student societies at SOAS, under the auspices of the Students’ Union.
A general meeting of the SOAS Students’ Union on 24 January endorsed a “Jewish Equality Act” which was proposed by our Jewish Society. The motion identifies a number of steps the School and the Students’ Union can take to address the needs and concerns of Jewish students. We welcome the commitment from the student body in support of Jewish students and are working with them and the Jewish Society to implement the recommendations made.
Where any complaint is made alleging anti-Semitism, we investigate thoroughly, according to our procedures. Over the last two years, we have received two complaints, including one in relation to an incident in February 2017, which we are currently investigating. We are offering the student concerned support from our welfare team and from the Centre for Jewish Studies here at SOAS. We have been advised by the Union of Jewish Students that we should do more to ensure that our students understand how to make complaints and we are doing that.
We are fully aware of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism which was recently sent to universities for their information, by the UK Government. We as a university do not see it as our role to define, for example, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. In universities, we discuss, debate and argue about these issues. Some scholars of anti-Semitism support the IHRA definition, others reject it as misguided. We will continue to promote discussion on campus, as we have a duty to ensure free speech and to facilitate robust debate on all issues including Israel and Palestine.
SOAS has a strong academic track record in research and teaching which relates to Israel Studies and Jewish Culture – including the UK’s first Professor of Israel Studies, an active Centre for Jewish Studies, a range of degree programmes – and the School is home to the Jewish Music Institute and the European Association of Israel Studies. All of this is part of our leading role in the development of thinking on issues pertaining to the Middle East.