(REPORT) — A Jewish rabbi has called for right-wing “infiltrators” on UK campuses to be banned, after an incident in at University College London in which a man attacked Islam as a “violent religion” at a pro-Palestine rally.
Jerry Lewis, deputy for Hampstead Synagogue, spoke at a board meeting of the Jewish Board of Deputies (BoD) and condemned provocations against students by ostensibly pro-Israel organisations.
“There are groups in our community who are coming to campuses who have got nothing to do with students, who are interfering with what’s going on at campus and putting our Jewish students at risk of their own safety and that must stop,” he said, in a statement to the BoD President Jonathan Arkush.
“I am now going to ask the President to intervene with those groups – one of whom I know is funded from Israel and I was told while I was in Israel, they’re doing these things to make sure they can justify the funding they get from Israel. It’s an utter utter disgrace and we’ve got to support our students properly by making sure they are not put at risk any longer on any campus anywhere.”
At the incident at UCL, which took place in October, Elliott Miller – national organiser for Student Rights, an offshoot of the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society – is seen shouting at supporters of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement during a demonstration agaisnt a speech by the former Israeli army officer Hen Mazzig.
“You treat them like shit. You don’t respect women,” he is heard shouting. “You don’t respect gays … It’s a violent religion. It’s a violent religion.”
Other UCL students testified to the pro-Palestinian activist site Electronic Intifada that they had been told to “go back to Syria” and “go back to Gaza” by pro-Israel activists.
Some media outlets, however, characterised the pro-Palestinian activists as acting in a “aggressive and violent” manner.
Lewis told the board meeting that pro-Israel groups participating in these counter-demonstrations had no place on the campus.
“Of course I decry any attacks undertaken by Palestinian students on Jewish students,” he said, referring to the allegations against the pro-Palestinian activists.
“But there was a provocation by infiltrators who’ve got nothing to do with campuses who should never have been on the campuses, allowed on the campuses and should be banned from campuses in future.”
In response, Arkush suggested that he was not sure if Lewis’ remarks were “particularly helpful” and said the pro-Palestinian demonstrators had been “violent and intimidatory”. However, he added that he was “clear” that he was “not in favour of outside groups going on to campuses.”
Student Rights later claimed that the pro-Palestinian activists had been “surrounded by assaults and racist chants” and had to be “escorted by the Metropolitan Police for our very physical safety.”
The Student Rights organisation was established in June 2009 with the aim of, in its own words, “supporting equality, democracy and freedom from extremism on university campuses.”
However, the organisation has been criticised by some as being “anti-Islam”. One former director, Raheem Kassam, later went on to work for the right-wing Breitbart news site and stood as a candidate for the leadership of the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Douglas Murray, associate director of Student Rights’ parent organisation the Henry Jackson Society, has also been criticised for making anti-Muslim remarks, including calling for “conditions for Muslims in Europe” to “be made harder across the board” and has suggested Europe is under threat from “Islamic fascism”.
Also on the board of Student Rights is Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP who is known for frequently campaigning on pro-Israel issues in the House of Commons.
Elliot Miller was contacted by Middle East Eye for comment, but had not responded at the time of publication. MEE also contacted the BoD but had also not received a response at the time of publication.
University campuses have long been a proxy battleground for the Israel-Palestine conflict with numerous student unions adding their support to the BDS campaign calling for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
The election of Muslim woman Malia Bouttia, an outspoken pro-Palestinian activist, to the Presidency of the National Union of Students has further provoked controversy.
Recent reports have indicated that some pro-Israeli officials have attempted to remove Bouttia from her position and have discussed how to do so with NUS activists.
In undercover footage filmed by the Al-Jazeera Investigations Unit, the reporter is heard discussing how to oust Bouttia from her position as NUS president with NUS vice president Richard Brooks, after he is introduced to him by former Israeli embassy political officer Shai Masot.
Brooks is heard to say that he was a key figure involved in attempts to remove Bouattia. He admits to organising a faction against Bouattia, telling the AJ reporter to “drop me a line whenever you want to have a conversation” if he wished to speak to any figures opposed to Bouattia.
Jewish organisations and leaders have warned of a rise in anti-semitism on university campuses.
Ruth Deech, Britain’s first higher education adjudicator and now a crossbench peer, told the Daily Telegraph in December that an atmosphere of hostility to Jewish students had become as such that there were “certain universities that you should avoid” mentioning the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the University of Manchester in particular.
However, her comments were criticised by the Union of Jewish Students who, while welcoming her recognition of the rise in anti-semitism on UK campuses, said her comments did not “fully portray the experiences of Jewish students” and warned they did a “disservice to the thousands who are able to freely express their Jewish identities in whichever way they choose.”
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