UK Universities Minister Jo Johnson.
(photo credit: LEIVI SALTMAN)
BIRMINGHAM – Racism and antisemitism on campus contradict the idea of a university, UK Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said at the Limmud Festival in Birmingham, England, on Tuesday.
“There is no place in our society for hatred or any form of discrimination or racism, such as antisemitism,” Johnson said. “A racist and antisemitic environment is by definition an illiberal one that is totally antithetical to the idea of a university in a free society.”
Johnson gave a speech on the importance of freedom of speech, speaking out against “groups [that] sought to stifle those who they do not agree with through safe spaces or no-platforming,” which are tactics that have been used against Israeli and pro-Israel speakers on campuses.
Without the “basic liberal principle” of free speech, universities will be on a “slippery slope that ends up with a society, less able to make scientific breakthroughs, less innovative,” he said.
Johnson said the “number of antisemitic incidents in our universities are a reason for concern,” pointing out that “fewer than half of Jewish students surveyed said they would be comfortable attending National Union of Students events.
“That is simply unacceptable,” he added.
One example Johnson gave of an antisemitic event was a 2016 incident in which pro-Israel speaker Hen Mazzig, a Mizrahi, gay IDF veteran who speaks on campuses about his experiences, was unable to address a group of University College London students because of a violent anti-Israel mob. Jewish students and Mazzig, who was invited to speak by CAMERA on Campus, had to barricade themselves in the room in which the event was to take place, for their own safety.
“We, as a government, are working to combat antisemitism on campus, and I believe we are making progress,” Johnson said.
That includes asking universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism, and budgeting more than £4 million toward fighting harassment on campus.
Johnson cited what he said was a positive trend in the National Union of Students, by which the current leadership is trying to work to fight antisemitism, including launching a Holocaust education campaign.
Asked specifically about Israel Apartheid Week events on campuses, Johnson said, “Questioning Israel’s right to exist, denying the Holocaust – those manifestations are clearly captured by the definition of antisemitism, and we will take steps to ensure that does not take place.”
Johnson’s speech attracted broad interest from the UK press, since it was given the day after Christmas, Boxing Day, in which there is not much political news.
The address was given at the Limmud Festival, a Jewish educational and cultural event held annually in the UK since 1980. This year’s Limmud attracted 2,600 participants from 37 countries, including 600 presenters, among which were two reporters from The Jerusalem Post.
Limmud co-chairwoman Anna Lawton described the conference’s message in a way that gibes with Johnson’s address.
“Limmud Festival provides a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment to foster dialogue and encourage diversity,” Lawton said. “Part of celebrating everything Jewish is reaching out to and exchanging ideas.”