University students say 'no' to Jewish society - sparking backlash from MP and union
PUBLISHED: 12:31 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 15:05 21 February 2019
Hundreds of students at the University of Essex have voted against creating a Jewish society, sparking anger from a national union and Colchester's MP.
More than 200 student union members – around 36% of those polled – answered ‘no’ to the question ‘should there be a Jewish society’.
It is currently being asked on the student union website, as per usual procedure which means any proposed new society must be ratified by securing votes. Only registered students can vote in the poll.
“We are deeply disappointed by the significant proportion of students who have voted against the establishment of a Jewish society at the University of Essex,” a spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said.
“Jewish societies, of which over 60 exist on UK campuses up and down the country, provide a space for Jewish students to celebrate their culture and identity.
“The fact that some students at the University of Essex deem it fit to vote against that is quite simply shocking.”
Meanwhile, Colchester MP Will Quince also described the vote as “shocking” and “terrible”.
There are several religious societies currently ratified by the university’s student’s union – including those for Christianity and Islam.
The University of Essex has had a radical past – it was one of the factors which helped it snag its ‘University of the Year’ title recently – in the 1960s, it was a hotbed of student politics.
The UJS are calling for a full investigation and say they are supporting Jewish students at Essex with their next steps.
Meanwhile, University of Essex students’ union bosses said the application for a Jewish society was approved by the societies guild committee on February 12 and put online for students to vote on.
“The University of Essex Students’ Union welcomes the proposed establishment of a Jewish society by our student members and recognises the importance of such a society,” a spokesman said.
“As a union we reject any form of hate speech and we are taking all reports of anti-semitic behaviour extremely seriously and ensuring that these are investigated and acted upon.
“In particular we are extremely concerned by the reported comments by a member of university staff and we are representing these concerns and those raised by our members, to the university.
He added: “Essex students’ union has a proud history of inclusivity and our 16,000 student members come from an incredibly diverse range of nationalities, cultures and religions.”
A University of Essex spokeswoman said they are looking into allegations of comments made by a member of staff regarding the desire of Jewish students to set up their own society.
They are doing so in accordance with the university’s zero tolerance policy.
“We expect staff, students and visitors to be treated, and to treat each other, with dignity and respect,” the spokeswoman said.
“The ratification process has been a focus for strong debate.
“As a university, we promote debate and deliberation of controversial issues and, within the limits of the law, encourage students and staff to express views with rigour and conviction.
“Alongside our commitment to freedom of speech, we also have clear guidelines for student and staff conduct and we have zero tolerance towards harassment or hate crime and will always take appropriate and proportionate action.
She added: “We are looking into the allegations as a matter of urgency in accordance with our zero tolerance policy.”