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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
16 Dec 2023

Ministers must cure the moral rot of anti-Semitism infecting universities

The day Hamas inflicted the most deadly attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust was a litmus test for public decency in this country. While high-profile politicians of all stripes united in strong public condemnation of the attack and support for the Jewish community, this masked the extent of the moral decay from considerable sections of the public.

Within a week there was a 1,200 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents. As we have come to expect, a convoy of cars soon took to the streets at night with the specific intent to intimidate onlookers. Even today, physical attacks on Jewish businesses, synagogues, schools and Jewish people persist.

In the face of the worst outpouring of racism on the streets of the UK in decades there has been near-silence from the usual anti-racist campaigners. When I addressed the crowd at the dignified and patriotic march against anti-Semitism in Westminster there was virtually no presence from the myriad of anti-racist groups who defied lockdown to protest, nor the professional social justice warriors that explode at mere “micro-aggressions”. Their usual refrain to respect the “lived experience” of a minority group – and, in this case, one of genuine fear from British Jews – was absent. Instead, the unholy alliance between Islamists, who barely bother to disguise their anti-Semitism, and the far-Left cemented itself in weekly mass marches in the capital, where the glorification of terror and flagrant anti-Semitism abounded.

The rank hypocrisy is appalling, but it is not surprising. Left-wing academics that downplay individual agency and focus on “structural” and “indirect” discrimination caused, they argue, by societal power imbalances, cannot explain why a successful minority group could, in fact, be victims of racism. In critical race theory, where the all-encompassing concept of “whiteness” is the route of oppression, the spring from which all racism flows, how could a seemingly white-adjacent group themselves be subject to discrimination? The self-loathing over our past they derive from post-colonial studies only empowers these followers with a missionary-like self-righteousness and brazenness. The outcome is twofold: flagrant racism from self-professed anti-racists; and terrorist apologias as they confront the real-world consequences of hitherto theoretical “resistance”.

These theories were born and nurtured in the West’s universities and are now so widespread that campuses have become safe spaces for those who practise anti-Semitism. The most extreme, but entirely logical, endpoint of this strand of thinking was advanced by the presidents of the most prestigious US universities in a Congressional hearing earlier this month, where calling for genocide of Jews was said to be justified “depending on the context”.

Left unchecked, that is the trajectory our own universities are heading towards, with the great accelerator of social media speeding up the transition. In the last few weeks we have seen: students at Bristol University call for “unconditional support for Hamas”; UCU academics at University College London pass a motion supporting “intifada until victory”; Palestine societies from Warwick, SOAS, and York defend and glorify the Oct 7 attack; and an academic at the University of Leeds post a retweet declaring, “no space for Zionists on our campus… not now and not any other time”. Universities, once places dedicated to learning, are now contributing to the radicalisation of the next generation.

It is clear that the moral bankruptcy of our academic institutions cannot be remedied through public condemnation alone. The moral rot is too deep and the societal outrage too timid to shame them.

The answer is not to reorder the hierarchy of the oppressed and elevate the status of Jews versus others in the “victimhood Olympics”, but simply to tackle the perversion itself head on. That means the Government must robustly intervene, utilising the powerful and unique levers it has at its disposal to rescue our once great universities from their demise.

This starts by withholding funding from universities that do not take a zero-tolerance approach towards extremism. As communities secretary I invested considerable time encouraging universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism only for alternative, less rigorous versions to appear by the backdoor. Those who do not hold themselves to the higher standards and actually enforce it against academic staff or students should have the threat made to them in a language they understand: financial pain. Sadly, it appears to have only been the loss of donations and corporate collaborations at the mostly private US universities – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars – that has prompted them to begin to take action.

As we have seen in the last few months, anti-Semitism has been de facto decriminalised; there is very little risk to the perpetrators. Faced with the scale and public nature of anti-Semitic incidents, I expect to see a high number of prosecutions in the weeks and months ahead. There is a clear public interest argument for these individuals to receive tougher sentences than they would do otherwise. And as the events in the Middle East trigger a new wave of radicalisation, it is high time we refreshed our wider counter-extremism legislation to plug the loopholes extremists on our streets have come to exploit.

Those students that come here, or indeed those on any other temporary visa route, who abuse our generosity to spread extremism must have their visa revoked. Visas are a privilege, not an entitlement. As immigration minister I worked to revoke the visas of foreign students spewing hate in university settings. But when I broached the idea of swift and mass revocations I was met with surprise and a raft of logistical obstacles. We must fully utilise this power and invest in a significantly larger unit to remove those on temporary visas whose behaviour falls short.

Robert Jenrick is Conservative MP for Newark