Jewish daughter of UK official drops university course over antisemitism

The Jewish daughter of UK Secretary of State for Defense Grant Shapps, has said that she feels unsafe at the University of Leeds while surrounded by “antisemitic” chants at protests across her university campus following the October 7 massacre, according to the Telegraph

Tabytha Shapps said she felt uneasy after witnessing “From the river to the sea” chants and holding posters saying “End Israeli state terror” on campus. 

Additionally, Shapps, a second year student studying the ‘Politics and Economics’ course at the university, said that she decided to pull out of a module on Israel and Palestine where she claimed that her peers discussed “Israeli apartheid” and “Israel’s agenda as a genocidal state.”

She said, “As the only Jew in the class… I’m sitting there and I’m thinking, what about the injustices of the 1,200 Israelis killed on Oct 7?”

In an interview with The Telegraph, Shapps emphasized that she appreciates the right to protest from a pro-Palestinian perspective, having visited the West Bank city of Ramallah last year, however, she said that she cannot see how Jewish students can expect to feel safe on campus” when they are confronted with “antisemitic” slogans.

The Government’s independent counter-extremism commissioner, Robin Simcox, suggested he believes the chant to be genocidal in the context of the Hamas terror attacks on Israel, which killed 1,200 people.

Demonstrators protest against antisemitism and in support of Israel, in London last week. In some countries, statistics show unprecedented rates of antisemitism, including a 540% uptick in the UK. (credit: Susannah Ireland/Reuters)

Shapps argued that the university has allowed extremist attitudes to fester at an already scary time for Jewish people. 

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Response from the university emphasizes free speech

In response to complaints, the university said it has a “legal duty to support free speech”, but will not tolerate “antisemitism or Islamophobia of any kind”, adding, “We do not support any views or actions which make others feel unsafe or unwelcome on campus.”

Tabytha’s mother, Belinda, has tried to contact the university to address her daughter’s fears with the university directly, however her calls remained unanswered for a week, when she received a generic response regarding the importance of free speech, with no mention of antisemitism. 

The email sent by the interim vice chancellor, Prof Hai-Sui Yu, viewed by The Telegraph, said: “As an institution of higher education, which values academic freedom (including in particular critical independence and creativity), the university is committed to enabling free debate across a wide range of views, even where they are unpopular or controversial.

“The university has an explicit duty in law to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

“This duty includes a responsibility to ensure that the use of university premises is not denied to any individual or group on the grounds of the belief or views of that individual or any member of that group or on the grounds of the policy or objectives of the group.

“This does not mean, however, that the right to freedom of expression is unfettered. It is limited, for example, by laws to protect national security and public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, and to prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence.

“The university expects speakers and those taking part in protest activities to respect those values, to be sensitive to the diversity of its inclusive community, and to show respect to all sections of that community.”

A spokesman for the University of Leeds said, “Whilst the university has a legal duty to support free speech, antisemitism or Islamophobia of any kind will not be tolerated and we do not support any views or actions which make others feel unsafe or unwelcome on campus.

Our security teams are liaising with local police and the Community Security Trust to ensure our students feel safe, and we urge students to report any incident for investigation and action.

The university is providing a wide range of support for students who are affected by the conflict and will continue to listen and respond to their concerns.”

These incidents fall in line with the massive surge of reports of anti-Jewish hate at UK universities since the October 7 massacre. Students are covering kippahs with baseball caps and hiding Star of David necklaces.

Widespread campus antisemitism in the UK and across the globe

Across UK universities, students have reported feeling unsafe since the October 7 attack, amid on-campus protests, where calling for the destruction of the Jewish state is widespread. 

One student had put up posters of hostages kidnapped by Hamas in her university town, that were ripped down only 45 minutes later.

Robert Halfon, the universities minister, has also said he is worried about “an invisible ghetto forming across our campuses”.

In an interview with The Telegraph in November, he highlighted examples of “Jewish students being screamed at” and “people knocking on the doors of Jewish chaplains, saying ‘we know where you live’”.

University campuses have come under scrutiny globally after the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania testified before Congress and could not say that calls for genocide of Jews violated their code of conduct.