Essex suspends staff member in antisemitism row

Hundreds of students voted against creation of Jewish society on campus

February 22, 2019
Anthony Forster
Anthony Forster

A member of staff at the University of Essex has been suspended following a row over proposals for a Jewish society on campus.

More than 200 students are said to have voted against the creation of a new Jewish society at the university, citing their objections after the proposal was opened up to them in a poll.

Student union officials planned to relaunch the vote, but the university has since said that the new society will be set up regardless, following a backlash.

Issuing a response on Twitter, Anthony Forster, Essex’s vice-chancellor, condemned antisemitism as “antithetical to the values of the university” and said that it had “no place” on campus.

An independent investigation is to take place into “allegations against a member of staff, and whilst this takes place they have been suspended”, a statement said.

Media outlets reported that posts on the Facebook account of computer science lecturer Maaruf Ali had expressed opposition to the creation of the society, describing it as a group for “Zionists”.

The university did not name the member of staff who was suspended.

The issue has sparked outrage online from students, staff, celebrities and members of parliament, including John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons and Essex’s chancellor, who said that he was “very concerned” by the reports. “As university chancellor, I will be seeking an urgent discussion with the university administration,” he said.

The Union of Jewish Students described the outcome of the original vote as “deeply disappointing”.

Meanwhile, Will Quince, member of parliament for Colchester, where the University of Essex is based, criticised the university’s response. Posting on Twitter, he said: “I have seen the statement put out by [Essex, that] ‘as a university, we promote debate and deliberation of controversial issues’ – I think they should clarify because there is absolutely nothing controversial about either being Jewish or wanting to set up a Jewish Society.”

The university later said that it had not meant to include the word “controversial” in its response, Mr Quince said.

Professor Forster announced that the university had launched a review to ensure that it offers “unequivocal support to our Jewish students and staff”.

“To see the University of Essex associated with antisemitism has been a deeply shocking event and one which has filled me with great sadness,” he said.

“Antisemitism is antithetical to the values of the University of Essex and has no place at our university. We have a zero-tolerance approach to harassment and hate crime which is at the very core of our values and beliefs.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The University of Essex is actually in Wivenhoe which is part of the Harwich and North Essex Parliamentary constituency represented by Bernard Jenkin.

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