Jewish students must not be harassed, Keegan warns Cambridge and Oxford university protests

The Gaza protest camp set up on King's Parade in Cambridge.
Credit: ITV News Anglia
The protest at Cambridge University was set up over the Bank Holiday weekend. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Jewish students must not be harassed or intimidated, the education secretary has said after Oxford and Cambridge staff and students set up camps on their university campuses to protest against the war in Gaza.

Gillian Keegan believes the protests could add to a hostile atmosphere on campus and said “we will not stand by as Jewish students suffer”.

The so-called “Liberated Zone” encampments were created in the early hours of Monday in front of the Pitts Rivers Museum in Oxford and outside King’s College in Cambridge.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Ms Keegan says: “The sad fact is since the abhorrent 7 October (Hamas) attacks, there has been an unprecedented rise in incidents of antisemitic abuse and intimidation.

“This is creating a hostile and toxic atmosphere on campus, which these protests will add to, when students are beginning some of the most important exams of their lives.

“In light of this, I am making myself very clear: antisemitic abuse and intimidation must not be tolerated on university campuses and we will not stand by as Jewish students suffer.

“Freedom of speech and expression is vital to academic communities, but it must not be used to harass and intimidate, or cause significant disruption to the vital business of higher education.”

The protesters are calling for the universities to cut financial ties with Israel after the country’s offensive in Gaza.

A similar camp has also been set up at Oxford University. Credit: PA/Handout

In footage posted to social media, students can be seeing setting up tents and carrying sleeping bags.

SOAS University of London students and staff also established a “Liberated Zone for Gaza” on Monday, with a spokesperson saying the university was “deeply tied to Israeli settler colonialism” through investments in various companies.

In a joint statement, Oxford Action for Palestine and Cambridge for Palestine said they “refuse to accept our universities’ complicity in Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people”.

They said: “Oxbridge’s profits cannot continue to climb at the expense of Palestinian lives, and their reputations must no longer be built on the whitewashing of Israeli crimes.

“Today we join the university students, faculty and staff across the globe who refuse to continue business as usual while our institutions profit from genocide.”

Pro-Palestine encampments have sprung up at UK universities like Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle over the past week, after unrest at similar sites in the US.

Cambridge for Palestine called on the university to disclose financial and professional ties to Israel, divest from related organisations, and reinvest in supporting Palestinian students, academics and scholars.

Tents set up on the lawn outside King's College Cambridge. Credit: ITV News

Demands by Oxford Action for Palestine include the university disclosing a comprehensive account of university-wide assets and divesting from “all companies that are complicit in Israeli genocide, apartheid and occupation of Palestine within the next five years”.

Student-led group Cambridge Jews for Justice in Palestine is supporting the encampment on their university grounds and told the PA news agency: “We refuse to sit by while our university is complicit in, and profits from, the genocide of Palestinians and we refuse to accept its commitment to murder and bloodshed as the status quo.”

The spokesperson said they were joining “students across the world in refusing the weaponised conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism”.

An Oxford University spokesperson told PA: “We respect our students and staff members’ right to freedom of expression in the form of peaceful protests.

“We ask everyone who is taking part to do so with respect, courtesy and empathy.”

Cambridge University said it was committed to freedom of speech within the law.

A university spokesperson said: “The university is fully committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law and we acknowledge the right to protest.

“We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with understanding and empathy.

“Our priority is the safety of all staff and students. We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia and any other form of racial or religious hatred, or other unlawful activity.”

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