Jewish student centre vandalised after emeritus Leeds professor ‘suggested protest there’

‘Free Palestine’ was graffitied on Hillel House after a professor called for a ‘coordinated response’

A Jewish student centre has been vandalised in a “hate crime” after a University of Leeds emeritus professor suggested to students that they should demonstrate there.

A planned appearance of an Israeli rapper at the university earlier last week had prompted the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group to consider a response

The words “Free Palestine” were then spray painted on Hillel House after emeritus professor James Dickins wrote an apparent reference to the location in a WhatsApp group, The Telegraph reports.

Last week, chair of the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group and retired University of Leeds professor professor James Dickins forwarded a message in a group WhatsApp chat to other members reading: “Hey guys, does anyone know about this individual? He will be coming to Leeds Uni to give a talk on 7 Feb. Maybe something to cover as part of a national day of work/university action?”

Then, in a call for action, the scholar of Arabic, added: “I think a coordinated response is needed from Leeds PSC, and staff at Leeds University.”

The 66-year-old professor then wrote in an apparent reference to the location arranged for rapper Noah Shufutinsky’s appearance that the “place they’re referring to is the Hillel house”.

Later that week, the Jewish student centre was vandalised with grafitti which read “Free Palestine”. Students had only met at the centre earlier that day to make a traditional Jewish bread known as challah.

There is no suggestion that professor Dickins was involved in the vandalism, although West Yorkshire Police have said the graffiti vandalism is being treated as a hate crime and are appealing for witnesses.

The Union of Jewish Students and Leeds Jewish society said in a statement: “We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc [Jewish society] Hillel House was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.

“It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level. For nearly 70 years the Hillel House has stood as a place of safety and community for Jewish students in Leeds, untouched by such despicable behaviour.

“The University of Leeds has serious questions to answer as to how an environment was allowed to be created where a Leeds professor deemed it acceptable to publicise the location of a Jewish building.

“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences that they deserve.”

A spokesman for the University of Leeds said: “We are aware of social media comments made by a retired member of our staff. We are currently investigating whether they breach any of the university’s policies or procedures, and if necessary, will take appropriate action.”

On the vandalism incident, the spokesman told The Jewish Chronicle: “We are deeply saddened that our Jewish community appears to have been targeted by this criminal act.

“The university takes incidents of this nature extremely seriously and the safety and welfare of our students and staff is our number-one priority. We recognise that students and staff across our community have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, and will continue to provide support across our campus.

“We are working with West Yorkshire Police and the property owners as they investigate this incident, and have supported the UJC in swiftly cleaning and repainting the property.”

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