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
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
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
UJS MAKES REQUESTS
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
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
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