University boss 'shocked' at anti-semitism row makes big announcement about Jewish society
A Jewish society will be created at the University of Essex irrespective of any ratification by its students' union, a vice chancellor has said.
Professor Anthony Forster this morning expressed his shock at a row which broke out over a vote to establish such a society.
He said he condemns anti-semitism in all forms and outlined a series of actions he is taking today – including committing to a Jewish society being set up on campus no matter what.
University bosses will immediately launch a review to ensure they provide “unequivocal” support to Jewish students and staff, alongside an independent investigation into allegations made against a member of staff.
The person in question has been suspended while this is carried out, Professor Forster said.
His comments came amid backlash from MPs and celebrities to a public vote on the student union website, which saw hundreds of students vote ‘no’ to the question ‘should there be a Jewish society’.
Last night, the students’ union announced a new poll would be going live on the site today.
Yet this morning, Professor Forster said: “To see the University of Essex associated with anti-semitism has been a deeply shocking event and one which has filled me with great sadness.
“Anti-semitism is antithetical to the values of the University of Essex and has no place at our university.
“We have a zero tolerance approach to harassment and hate crime which is at the very core of our values and beliefs.
“We are proud to subscribe to the working definition of anti-semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
He added: “Recent events have shown me we still have work to do, and I am announcing a series of immediate actions to tackle all forms of anti-semitism within our community.”
The university is also due to host an event next Thursday at its Colchester campus in support of its Jewish community – to which staff, students and the public are invited.
Celebrities such as Rachel Riley had waded into yesterday’s row, which saw the Union of Jewish students, Colchester MP Will Quince and Harwich and north Essex MP Bernard Jenkin criticise the vote.
A University of Essex students’ union spokesman said last night: “(On Thursday) morning the students’ union was made aware of an irregularity which allowed non-society members to vote in the ratification.
“As soon as this was brought to our attention we investigated and as a result have declared the current vote null and void, due to us no longer being able to ensure the vote has been free and fair.
“This irregularity has now been resolved, and we will open a fresh vote on the ratification of Jewish society tomorrow (Friday) which will run for three working days as per the societies guild constitution.
“Only members of the societies guild will be eligible to vote.
The spokesman added: “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.”