ACTION ALERT: University of Leeds
The University of Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group needs support following a successful motion allowing it to criticise the racist policies and war crimes of the state of Israel.
Please read the article (below) from the Jewish Chronicle which inaccurately describes the effects of the motion, and the University of Leeds press release which follows.
Gagging of Leeds students ‘in breach of law’
15/12/2006 By Nathan Jeffay The Jewish Chronicle
The University union authorities in Leeds have been warned that they will be breaking the law if they apply the controversial new policy of gagging Jewish students.
As the JC reported last week, the student union has been mandated to ignore Jewish Society complaints “as long as Judaism as a faith is not offended.” Jewish students who number 1,000 in Leeds were outraged, saying the move gives the growing pro-Palestine lobby, which proposed the motion, carte blanche to libel Israel.
This week, the Union of Jewish Students decreed that “the motion is in contravention of the 1994 Education Act.” According to campaigns director Mitch Simmons, it appears to offend the requirement outlined in section 22, dealing with student unions, that “there should be a complaints procedure available to all students or groups of students who… are dissatisfied in their dealings with the union.”
Damola Timeyin, communications and democracy officer for the Leeds union, refused to comment on the legal question. However, in a letter to the JC, he insisted: “The motion in no way changes Jewish students’ right to support the State of Israel or debate the issue.”
Mr Simmons said that UJS was not currently planning legal action, as it expected the union to drop the policy given its “clear” legal difficulties. “The point of this law is that any group has the right to complain,” he said. “You cannot say that this motion, however well it was passed by student democracy, is able to overturn that right.”
However, a J-Soc campaign officer, Hannah Zatman, said it was “consulting lawyers, and is determined to fight this policy with as much strength as possible.”
Chaplain Rabbi Michael Treblow met pro-vice chancellor Professor Stephen Scott at the start of the week “to convey that this is an issue of great concern to Jewish students and to British Jewry as a whole, and also to make it clear that the reality of Jewish identity in the UK is that it is intertwined with the existence of the State of Israel.”
He voiced alarm that the sole definition of Jewish identity in the student union was religious, on the say-so of the Palestinian Solidarity Group, authors of the policy. This meant that Jewish students were effectively powerless to complain against any anti-Israel activities in the union.
He also discussed fears that the J-Soc might be banned as a consequence of the policy. With Israel’s legitimacy as part of Jewish identity challenged, the PSG was free to claim that the J-Soc was not advocating Jewish identity but a political ideology that, in the motion, was equated with racism. The J-Soc could then find itself excluded from the union under its “no platform” for racists policy.
But despite the chaplain’s arguments, vice-chancellor Professor Michael Arthur wrote to the JC this week insisting: “The referendum decision does not conflict with the university’s values.” He claimed that an acceptable status quo existed, whereby “people may criticise the policies and actions of the State of Israel on our campus. But they may not be antisemitic.”
On hearing of Professor Arthur’s position, Rabbi Treblow was “not happy,” considering it a “simple defence,” rather than addressing student concerns. Ms Zatman criticised the university, arguing: “It has possibly not looked at the policy, which is a direct attack on the Jewish Society. It should be more concerned with the Jewish Society not being allowed the rights of other societies clearly a matter of discrimination.”
Akram Awad, the Palestinian Solidarity Group activist who introduced the policy, posted a jubilant blog entry dedicated to “Leeds University’s Zionist J-Soc, to the Zionist UJS, and to all advocates of the racist illegal Zionist regime called ‘Israel.'”
He wrote: “Nothing on earth would stop us from fighting for the justice and freedom for all victims of the evil Zionist virus anywhere in the world. If you think that Leeds motions are our biggest victory you are very mistaken; this victory is so little for us and we haven’t even started yet. If you decide to keep defending and advocating the Devil then don’t blame us for [J-Soc] being offended every time we expose your beloved Zionists’ crimes, because ‘Israel’ itself is the biggest offence to humanity.”
From the motion
This Union notes: That although the LUU Jewish Society (J-Soc) is categorised by the Student Union as a religious society, a principal role for JSoc is to promote the state of Israel via its activities and affiliation with the National Union of Jewish Students
This Union resolves: To formally advise the LUU Jewish Society that promoting and defending Israel in its activities indicate that J-Soc is taking and advocating a curtain [sic] political stand in behalf of the Jewish students on campus
End of JC article
Press Statement released by the Press Office of the University of Leeds
13 December 2006
Press statement: Jewish students at Leeds
Contrary to recent reports emanating from a story in the Jewish Chronicle, it is not true that Jewish students have been gagged by the students’ union at Leeds. Nor is it true to say that Jewish students have been stripped ‘of basic rights enjoyed by all others’, or that a new union policy ‘specifically discriminates against Jewish students’.
The reports in question refer to a motion adopted recently by the students’ union though a referendum. The full text of the motion is available here; it seeks to ensure that members and supporters of the Palestinian Solidarity Group (a student society) are allowed to criticise the policies and actions of the state of Israel. It does not remove any rights from Jewish students, and in particular does not remove the rights of Jewish (or other) students to defend and promote the state of Israel.
In itself the motion adopted by the union does not conflict with the University’s own values. As an institution of higher education, the University is committed to promoting and positively encouraging free debate and enquiry. This means that it tolerates a wide range of views, even when they are unpopular, controversial or provocative (provided, of course, that they are lawful). But we would always expect speakers to respect the values of our civilised, inclusive society, and in particular to demonstrate respect to all sections of our community.
The University of Leeds is proud to be multicultural, with over 100 nationalities and many faiths working and studying here. We will not tolerate any kind of harassment of students, staff or visitors on our campus, and we would act swiftly and decisively in the (highly unlikely) event that any anti-semitism were to emerge at Leeds.
Email Leeds University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur on M.J.P.Arthur@adm.leeds.ac.uk and salute him for his firm stand in support of freedom of speech and healthy debate for all students in the University of Leeds.
Email the Student Union’s Communications and Democracy officer Damola Timeyin on email@example.com and thank the Student Union for adopting the two motions supporting the freedom of speech for the Palestinian Solidarity Group and the the right to education for Palestinian Students under occupation.
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Al Aqsa Haram Sharif and the protection of Palestinian Human Rights.
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