antisemitism oxford university open letter
Credit: Ananya Navale

Open letter to Vice-Chancellor describes “frightening climate” of antisemitism in Oxford

An open letter to the Vice-Chancellor, Deans, and Proctors of the University of Oxford describes an “escalation of antisemitic and anti-Israeli incidents in the university since the 7th of October”. 

The document was written by both “Jewish and non-Jewish”, and “Israeli and non-Israeli” students, staff, academics, and alumni who are “deeply alarmed” by the situation. The authors note that they chose to remain anonymous to “avoid victimisation.”

The letter acknowledges the Vice-Chancellor’s statement condemning “antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian discrimination”, but calls the University to take action to create a “safe and protected environment”.

Appended to the open letter is a list of 75 antisemitic incidents, which affected Jewish and Israeli students, tutorial fellows, professors, and University staff. Incidents vary in nature, from isolated antisemitic comments by staff and students to the use of antisemitic symbols and language on social media, including JCR, MCR, and University platforms.

The letter describes a “lack of aid and sympathy” around the October 7th attack. It regrets that “only a handful” of members of the University have been personally contacted by University welfare services, and that when Jewish members seeked support, they were sometimes met with antisemitic comments.

It further describes a “hostile environment” for Israeli students and academics, and “harassment incidents, directed at Jewish and Israeli university members”. It also finds the “conspiratorial narratives” in University forums “alarming”, and adds that the University is “failing” to act on harassment and discrimination complaints, with most of them being reportedly dismissed.

The letter lists a series of suggestions to battle antisemitism, which include safeguarding policies, complaints procedure, antisemitism training, long-term education, and more transparency from the University on the number and nature of discriminatory incidents.

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment, which had been condemned by the Oxford Israel Society, had previously held an antisemitism training session on 8th May.

An Oxford University spokesperson commented: “The University is unequivocal in its position that there is no place for antisemitism, Islamophobia, or unlawful discrimination of any kind directed towards any faith, race, nationality or ethnic group at the University of Oxford. All complaints related to harassment or discrimination of any kind are taken seriously, and formal complaints are always investigated if they are considered to have taken place within the University context.”

“We are in active conversation with the authors of the open letter about their concerns and to offer them further support. We have also written to update all staff and students this week about the University’s wider approach to the ongoing crisis in Gaza. This includes guidance on reporting cases of discrimination and harassment, and guidelines to ensure that student protests are conducted lawfully and safely for all members of the University’s community and the public.”

An anonymous Jewish student commented: “Antisemitism has consistently been justified and tolerated during legitimate criticisms of Israel’s actions […] We expect our professors to separate their political opinions from their teaching, and this letter makes it clear that this is often not the case.”

“Regarding the encampment, I was initially fearful, but since passing by a few times I think it is very peaceful […] I think it is a good, non-violent, outlet for students to express their support of the Palestinian people and feel as if they are making a real difference.”

Another student commented: “As a Jewish student who has experienced a noticeable upsurge in antisemitic rhetoric since October, this report is sobering. It puts my experiences into a clear wider context; one in which antisemitism has been allowed to fester and grow without reproach.”

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Image credit: Ananya Navale