Ministers keep eye on bitter Soas row

April 1, 2005

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The Home Office is monitoring events at the School of Oriental and African Studies amid mounting student conflict over Middle East politics.

A Home Office spokeswoman said this week that its officials had been in contact with Soas over allegations by Jewish students that they were suffering anti-Semitism. She confirmed that they were "monitoring" the school's own internal investigation "to ensure it moves forward".

The Home Office's comments came as the treasurer of Soas's Jewish Society told The Times Higher he had faced abuse from senior student union officers.

Gavin Gross revealed that he had been branded "scum" and a "fucking prick" in writing by the union's academic affairs officer.

Tensions have been mounting following a row over the student union's decision to host a conference denouncing "Israeli apartheid" in December while voting to ban Roey Gilad, a political counsel from the Israeli Embassy in London, from speaking elsewhere at the university.

Tensions worsened when the union announced in March that it had elected Ken Livingstone, London's Mayor, as its first-ever honorary president, at the height of the row over his comparison of a Jewish newspaper reporter to a concentration camp guard.

The current issue of the union's official student newspaper, Soas Spirit , has caused outrage with an article by a student titled "When only violence will do", which advocates violent action by Palestinians.

This week, Mr Gross showed The Times Higher an email in which student union environment officer, and co-editor of Soas Spirit , Rayyan Mirza, apologises for "swearing" at him at a union meeting.

However, when Mr Gross initially declined to accept the apology and called for Mr Mirza's removal from office, he was inadvertently copied in on an email from academic affairs officer Michal Murawski, describing him as a "total fucking prick" and a "cheeky, shameless little piece of city banker scum" who should himself be removed from office.

"There's no doubt," Mr Murawski's email said, "that putting that wanker in his place would be a big step towards greater harmony in the union."

Mr Murawski told The Times Higher that he had resigned his union post "to support the union's claim that they will not tolerate any abusive behaviour between its members" and had publicly apologised for the abusive email.

He said the email had been sent to Mr Gross in error and was "satirical" in tone. It was signed under the name of Alastair Campbell and, said Mr Murawski, mirrored his "repeated tendency to use indelicate language".

A Soas spokeswoman said: "Soas is rightly proud of its long tradition of vigorous debate, tolerance and openness.

"We are also aware that student politics have recently become polarised. We are extremely concerned to take appropriate steps to address any infringement of the school's own Freedom of Expression: Statement of Principles ."

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