(Published in the Daily Telegraph, November 10th 2023)
My alma mater, University College London (UCL), stands tall and proud among the world’s leading educational institutions. The roots of this legacy stem from UCL’s foundational values of secularism, liberalism, and tolerance. Founded in 1826, it was the first university in England to admit students regardless of their religion, and it was intended as an alternative to the Anglican-dominated universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
As a UCL alumnus, I’ve always been proud of this legacy. Yet, against the backdrop of this historical commitment, I feel the need to express my deep concern over the recent surge of antisemitism at UCL.
The horrifying massacre on October 7th in Israel, which saw 1,400 innocent Israelis and foreign nationals ruthlessly murdered by Hamas terrorists, was not just a blow to the nation but sent shockwaves throughout the world. The number of Jews killed on that dark day exceeded any single day since the Holocaust. The global community has reacted with shock, grief, and in many quarters – unsurprisingly, one might have thought – there has been outright condemnation.
However, the aftermath of this tragedy has unveiled deeply disturbing undercurrents in Western society, where Hamas atrocities have been downplayed, or even celebrated. Shockingly, such sentiments have even emerged within our beloved UCL. Reports suggest that certain student societies have used the grievous massacre in Israel as a springboard to spout antisemitic propaganda, in some instances glorifying the perpetrators and urging further violence against Jewish people.
More shockingly, such abhorrent views are not limited to students. One glaring example was the UCL-UCU EGM motion of October 27th. UCU is the trade union and professional association representing university staff across the Higher Education sector, and UCL-UCU is its UCL branch. Their biased and highly partisan declaration says much more about the shallow intellect and narrow-mindedness of the authors than it does about the current situation – but it is nonetheless horrifying.
Half-baked facts, invented facts and patent nonsense combine to deflect attention away from the fact that the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas – whose terrorists are trained by Iran and financed by Qatar – resulted in the death of 1,400 innocents, the injuring of 5,000, and the kidnap of 240.
The most generous interpretation of this blaming Israel and Western imperialism for the barbarism of October 7th, and criticising Israel’s determination to root out its perpetrators, is that it was misguided. Far more likely, however, is that it was motivated by a profound and abiding hatred of Jews. This becomes harder to deny when academia reserves its greatest condemnation for Israel, while ignoring other centres of international unrest where so many people die and are persecuted daily – Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Zimbabwe, Burma, Haiti, and others. The obsessive focus on Israel, and the knee-jerk defense of Hamas terrorism, can surely only be viewed as raw antisemitism masquerading as political activism.
The phrase “words have consequences” rings true today more than ever. The tragic events at the airport in Dagestan, where Jewish passengers were targeted by a bloodthirsty mob, serve as a stark reminder that hateful rhetoric can quickly manifest into deadly actions. And when such rhetoric is backed and propagated by academics in a leading global university, its weight and implications multiply.
I understand the importance of open discourse, debate, and even dissent, but there is a world of difference between promoting dialogue and fanning the flames of hatred. This isn’t about stifling voices; it is about ensuring that discourse remains respectful, fair, constructive, and free from the poison of bigotry.
UCL’s leadership must act swiftly and decisively. The recent statements by senior leadership are welcome, but they don’t go far enough. More needs to be done, especially when these voices of hate continue to operate seemingly unabated. Comprehensive investigations are warranted, and those found guilty of violating university policies should face consequences. It is also important to find out who is instigating this culture of hatred, so that they can be held accountable. The sanctity of the UCL campus, the safety of UCL students, and the reputation of the institution as a whole are all at stake.
As an alumnus, I implore UCL to remember its rich history and the principles it was founded upon. UCL was the first British university to admit Jews, a testament to its commitment to diversity and inclusion. In these trying times, I hope UCL rises to the occasion, upholds its values, and acts as the beacon of tolerance and secularism that it has always been. We owe it to ourselves, to our past, and to the future generations that will walk UCL’s hallowed halls.