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University in show of solidarity against anti-semitism after row

PUBLISHED: 12:54 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 13:32 01 March 2019

Hundreds of people gathered to show solidarity at the University of Essex Picture: STEVE BRADING

Hundreds of people gathered to show solidarity at the University of Essex Picture: STEVE BRADING

STEVE BRADING PHOTOGRAPHY

Hundreds of students and staff at the University of Essex have come together to take a stand against anti-Semitism.

University of Essex vice-chancellor Professor Anthony Forster made a speech at the event Picture: STEVE BRADINGUniversity of Essex vice-chancellor Professor Anthony Forster made a speech at the event Picture: STEVE BRADING

The show of solidarity came a week on from a row which erupted over a vote asking union members if a Jewish Society should be set up on campus.

Around 36% of students asked had said ‘no’ in the poll, hosted on the student union website, sparking anger from politicians, celebrities and the university’s Jewish population.

It saw a member of staff suspended over allegations of social media comments posted in the wake of the row, and a Jewish Society created on campus irrespective of any student vote.

On Thursday, vice-chancellor Professor Anthony Forster chaired a meeting of around 500 staff, students and members of the public at the university’s Colchester campus.

There Prof Forster, who spoke out to condemn anti-Semitism in all forms following the row, made a speech and read out a statement from the university’s chancellor, House of Commons speaker John Bercow.

“We are a university that must live by our values and the events of last week have called into question our commitment to these values,” Prof Forster said.

“It is right that the Jewish Society has now been formed, and I know that the university and the students’ union will do all in our power to enable it to flourish alongside our other societies.

“This is however only one step.

“On behalf of our community, I want to speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism.

“Today, we have come together to show that anti-Semitism is completely antithetical to the values of the University of Essex – and it has absolutely no place on our campuses and in our relationships with each other.”

Meanwhile, Mr Bercow added: “I was mortified last week that the university laid itself open to the charge of anti-Semitism.

“That too is why I support the vice-chancellor, Anthony Forster, and his colleagues, unequivocally and passionately, in acting to cleanse the university of that ugly and damaging stain.”  

Speeches were also heard from the president of the newly formed Jewish society, Amy-Julie Fogiel, and Daniel Kosky, campaign organiser from the Union of Jewish students – one of the first organisations to raise concerns about the poll and comments allegedly made by lecturer Dr Maaruf Ali.

Backlash to the original student union vote saw MPs Will Quince and Bernard Jenkin and Countdown presenter Rachel Riley wade into the row.

A University of Essex student union spokesman said at the time: “The union welcomes the proposed establishment of a Jewish society by our student members and recognises the importance of such a society.

“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.”

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