Natfhe tackles rise of racism

May 13, 2005

Lecturers' union Natfhe is expected to condemn the rise of anti-Semitism across UK university campuses at its annual conference later this month, writes Phil Baty.

The move comes as the Association of University Teachers feels the fallout of its decision to boycott links with academics from two Israeli universities.

A motion backed by Natfhe's national executive to be put to the Eastbourne conference at the end of May warns that anti-Semitic incidents are increasing and that prejudice against Jews is "becoming acceptable in the UK".

The Natfhe motion calls for new guidelines and training programmes to counter prejudice. It will be debated days after the AUT holds a one-off council meeting on May 26 to reconsider its decision to boycott Haifa and Bar-Illan universities - a move that some critics have condemned as anti-Semitic. Natfhe and the AUT are due to merge next year.

While the AUT has been criticised for its boycott plans, three years ago Natfhe passed a broader motion agreeing that UK education institutions "be urged immediately to review - with a view to severing - any academic links they may have with Israel".

The union later said it had "moved on" from the motion, and encourages links with institutions that "help build a positive relationship between Israel and Palestine".

According to the Community Security Trust, there were 532 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2004 - the highest total since records began in 1984 and 42 per cent more than in 2003. Incidents include assault, damage to property and abusive behaviour.

Natfhe's motion says that "universities and colleges must ensure that staff and students work in an atmosphere free from discrimination and intimidation".

Ronnie Fraser, founder of the Academic Friends of Israel, first suggested the Natfhe motion condemning anti-Semitism. He said that prejudice usually sprang from ignorance, for example where universities failed to acknowledge that religious commitments may prevent Jewish Orthodox students attending exams on Saturday.

It emerged this week that the Board of Deputies of British Jews has met education officials to discuss concerns about incidents at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Five Jewish students at Soas have made formal complaints about six incidents at the school, including the screening of a pro-Palestinian documentary, Jerusalem, the Promise of Heaven , in the Soas common room in February. The board says the film refers to Jewish prayer as "satanic".

Colin Bundy, director of Soas, said: "The communication from the Board of Deputies is receiving careful and detailed attention and it would be inappropriate for me to discuss a response before they have received it."

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