Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

14. Letter dated 27 January 2005, from the Union of Jewish Students

  I write in response to the letter from Kate Stephens of the Open University (13 January) about the evidence that I placed before your committee.

  In her letter Ms Stephens cites a newspaper report. I cannot be held responsible for newspaper reporting. I did issue a press statement about my evidence (copy attached). In my written evidence to the committee I said:

  "One of the worst cases of web-based anti-Semitism was found on the Open University's website, the message board included outrageous racist remarks. The message board is only accessible to students at the University"

  I stand by these remarks.

  The Open University claim that they have never received complaints about antisemitic or racist content published on their website. UJS is aware of at least one student who complained to the site moderator about the following content:

  "The US Government, controlled by Jews, did not release his name. The 14th cousin of the cockroach that infests his neighbour's house must be descended from one who was in Germany during the holocaust."

  The site moderator refused to remove this message and suggested a complaints procedure be followed. The procedure was so unclear that the student contacted UJS for assistance.

  Ms Stephens suggests that the offending content relates to the Israel/Palestinian issue and is not antisemitic. However, the following comments were also published on the Open University-hosted conferencing system:

  "Didn't your lot kill Jesus?"

  "But as long as a certain clique continues to thrust its twisted version of it (the Holocaust) down our throats for their own `industrial' ends, you will find those who seek to expose the truth"

  Furthermore, it is noteworthy that in a letter from UJS to Allan Cochrane, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Students) on 17 September 2003, we stated that:

  "You are right that debate on Israel should be encouraged, but offensive threads must be dealt with appropriately."

  Ms Stephens claims that the moderator promptly removed antisemitic comments. However, as stated, an initial complaint was made and the moderator refused to remove the offending post. In addition, the comments outlined above (among others) remained on the Open University-hosted site throughout the entire summer of 2003.

  Ms Stephens describes the matter as having being resolved in a "reasonable timescale" with "disciplinary action" taken against the perpetrators. However, almost three weeks elapsed between UJS making a complaint and receiving an official response. It took a further three weeks for confirmation that some action would be taken. Neither the details of the posts removed nor the disciplinary action taken was communicated to UJS. We would certainly welcome such information.

  Furthermore, UJS has learned that as recently as December 2004, the Open University-hosted site contained comments branding Jewish women's practices as "nonsense", condemned Jewish and Muslim communities as misogynistic and more alarmingly, questioned the veracity of the Holocaust. This included posts claiming the murder of six million Jews was a:

  "wild estimate plucked out of the air".

  This clearly demonstrates the validity of our concerns that since our complaint 19 months ago a problem still remains.

  UJS believes that it is worthy of note that the following post appeared on a student Internet message-board on 31 December 2004. It is somewhat puzzling that this was published two weeks prior to the Open University's letter to the Committee.

  Posted by: Interested 12/31/2004, 09:39:25 (note: mm/dd/yyyy here) testifying to the Home Affairs Select Committee about extremism on university campuses.

  Yes, but they've not seen the complaint coming from a certain MP on that Committee who felt he'd been misled.

  Misleading Parliament in generally not a good thing, but it appears UJS have done that over the Open Univiersity's response to alledged racism.—

  Ms Stephens states that the Open University has written to UJS, as of today, we have not received any letter from the University.

  If the committee is still minded after reading this response to add the Open University letter to the record, I would also like this letter to be put on the record as it responds to a number of their claims and adds additional and new useful information.

Danny Stone



  Earlier today, The Union of Jewish Students of the United Kingdom and Ireland (UJS) made a series of recommendations aimed at curtailing the growth of extremism on UK campuses during a session of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Community Relations and Terrorism. UJS leaders stressed that these recommendations stem from problems faced by their members on a regular basis.

  UJS called for a review of the 1982 Education Act which protects free speech at Universities to the extent which it has been used as justification for providing platforms and Student Union funds to groups opposed to democratic values. UJS slammed the current legislation providing examples of where it has failed to protect Jewish students from the activities of extreme Islamist groups. UJS further raised concerns that the Race Relations Amendment Act, in a legal anomaly was not being implemented in Student Unions, and demanded action.

  The second request of the Government was to ensure that the police have appropriate powers to tackle incitement on campus. The UJS official explained there was often a reluctance by local police to deal with incitement on campus. This problem is most acute in relation to the activities of Islamist Extremist groups who are most prevalent on campus, despite a series of bans by the National Union of Students (NUS).

  The final request was for serious consideration to be given to anonymous marking, a system already employed by some universities to protect those who are forced to learn under academics who have acted inappropriately.

  Danny Stone, the UJS Campaigns Organiser, and Luciana Berger, a leading member of the National Union of Students, National Executive also spoke about interfaith dialogue and the positive work being undertaken on campus, universities as a breeding ground for terrorism, and how the Middle East conflict when tackled out of context on campus often leads to hate speech and ultimately antisemitic attacks.

  NUS Anti-racism campaign co-convener, Luciana Berger said of the positive work being done: "UJS and the NUS have been working together to ensure stereotypes are broken down, and hatred is eliminated on campus. We have a duty of care to all students irrespective of race, religion, creed or colour and the requests made today will only help us in our fight against racism.".

  Danny Stone, UJS Campaigns Organiser said: "Campus has been shown to be a breeding ground for extremism, I sincerely hope the committee reviews our evidence with the utmost seriousness and that the Government acts upon the recommendations we have made."

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