university encampments

Rishi Sunak calls all UK vice-chancellors to urgent meeting over university encampments

Pro-Palestine encampments have been set up at 14 UK universities

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called all UK university vice-chancellors to an urgent meeting at Downing Street over university encampments and an “unacceptable rise in antisemitism” on campuses.

This comes after pro-Palestine encampments have been set up at 14 universities across the UK, a movement which has quickly moved over from protests in the US.

Students at 14 universities, including Oxford and Cambridge have set up “liberated zones” on their campuses demanding their unis cut financial ties with Israel and disclose university assets.

But as a result, Rishi Sinak summoned the university leaders due to these protests and the reported “unacceptable rise in anti-Semitism” across UK universities. The vice-chancellors will meet with the Prime Minister tomorrow.

When asked what his message to students involved in the protests was, Rishi Sunak said: “The right to free speech does not include the right to harass people or incite violence.”

He added: “We expect university leaders to take robust action in dealing with that kind of behaviour and that will be the subject of the conversation in No 10 later this week, to ensure a zero-tolerance approach to this sort of behaviour is adopted on all campuses.”

Oxford encampment (Via X@amiasrinivasan)

The PM began Tuesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting by saying there had been an “unacceptable rise in anti-Semitism on our university campuses”.

Government Ministers are currently drawing up new guidance for universities on how they should deal with potentially antisemitic protests, reports The Times.

At the same time, the university regulator is due to announce that universities will be required, under their conditions of registration, to have robust policies in place to prevent the “harassment” of students on campus.

The Union of Jewish Students warned last week that the UK occupations were creating a “hostile and toxic atmosphere”.

But one Jewish student taking part in an occupation at the University of Sheffield said their experience was very different.“There are various Jewish students, staff and local community members, including me, who have taken part in the Sheffield Palestine solidarity encampment as openly Jewish and have received no hate for it,” they said.

university encampments

Encampment at Sheffield

Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said campuses should be “tolerant places where people of all communities, particularly Jewish students at this time, are treated with respect” and that a “vocal and aggressive minority” must not be able to intimidate other students or academics.

There are currently encampments in solidarity with Palestine set up at the University of Warwick, University of Bristol, University of Sheffield, University of Leeds, University of Manchester, Newcastle University, University College London, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Aberdeen, University of Edinburgh, University of Liverpool, Trinity College Dublin and SOAS. Swansea University and Goldsmith’s also had encampments on their campuses but both have reportedly already ended.

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Featured image before edits via Jason Fong/Story Picture Agency/Shutterstock and YouTube.