Rojin-Sena Cantay

Know your rights as a UK student on campus

Jonathan Turner, the chief executive lawyer for UK Lawyers for Israel, works to tackle injustices relating to Israel. Since October 7th, anti-Israel and antisemitic incidents targeting students have continued to escalate with little intervention from university administrators.  Jonathan was interviewed by CAMERAonCampus UK to help Jewish and Zionist students understand their rights and legal protections.

 Universities who stay silent on Hamas and allow open support on their campus:

“When Russia invaded Ukraine, universities across the country released statements to express their support for the Ukrainian people and rightly so. When it came to the greatest  number of Jews murdered in one day since the Holocaust many have stayed silent.”

Jonathan advised pro-Israel students and activists to pressure school officials into publicly acknowledging the irrefutable destruction Hamas has brought on to the people of Gaza and Israel.

While the university does have some leeway with regard to making political statements, it is important to remind them of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010, which bars them from instilling or enabling any sort of harassment, discrimination against Jewish or Israeli students. They have clearly failed in their duties to create a safe learning environment.

Responding to anti-Zionism in the Classroom:

Regardless of whether anti-Zionism is accepted as antisemitism or not, it has been prominently used as a new cover for those who seek to express antisemitism without consequence. It is no coincidence that Jews around the world and in the UK experience record numbers of antisemitism every single time there is a flare up regarding Israel’s regional conflict.

In the classroom setting where students have the least amount of power, Jonathan advised again that debating is important when safe and possible, but if, (let’s face it, when) these conversations become abusive and offensive, it is important to file a formal complaint with the university.

Unfortunately, students at many UK schools shouldn’t hold their breath. Universities do not often handle complaints very reasonably and can take a long time to process. In situations where students feel harassed and unsupported, they can and should report to the police. Verbal, visual, and physical harassment is illegal in the UK. No one deserves to be threatened. No one deserves to be bullied. No one deserves to be harassed.

When confronted by professors who claim that Hamas is merely a political movement rather than a genocidal terror group in order to rationalise or even justify their recent actions, Jonathan suggests reminding them that “under UK law, it is a criminal offence to express support for a formally proscribed terrorist organisation. These sorts of situations rise to the level of criminal offences if the person or people being addressed [by the instructor] is liable to be persuaded to support Hamas or another terrorist organisation. If people come out of the lecture being supporters of Hamas then an offence is being committed.”

Jonathan further emphasized that “identifying as a ‘liberation movement’ does not entitle anyone to engage in criminal activity and as such, Hamas is not a legitimate liberation movement.” No matter how “politically legitimate” a group’s resistance is or claims to be, no one is allowed to commit atrocities like mass raping, beheading, wanton murder and even burning babies alive.

Responding to the Apartheid Canard:

Jonathan Turner added that extending Israeli civil and criminal law to the West Bank and making Palestinians there subject to it would be a form of annexation, which the international community opposes and would be considered by many to be contrary to international law.

The false claim that Israel is an apartheid state arises from pure misinformation and outright lies.

It is worth noting that while Israelis are not allowed to enter Areas A or B of the West Bank or any of Gaza (except now for military operations), thousands of Palestinians from both the West Bank and Gaza were allowed to enter and work in Israel (before their governments instigated and supported a war). If the central evidence of the claim is that the Israeli government treats Palestinians differently than Israelis, then by that definition every country with established citizenship laws would be committing apartheid. Having basic visa laws and giving citizens passports are not controversial. Granting legal privileges such as access to the civilian judicial system and freedom of access to non-Israeli-citizen Palestinians would mean forcing Israeli nationality on them, something that Palestinians continue to adamantly reject.

Jonathan then pointed out that “we must remind them that two million Arabs are successful in Israeli society.” Pro-Palestinian activists often like to identify Arab Israelis as Palestinians, and to a certain extent, they aren’t wrong. Both groups formed out of the Arab community living in the area before the 1948 war, the only difference being that Arab Israelis heeded the appeal from Israel’s Declaration of Independence to “preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship.” Most of the current Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank are descended from those who rejected this.

What to do if a student receives an unfairly low grade:  

While it is important for students to not immediately assume that a bad grade was given based on the divisiveness of the assignment’s topic and their opinions, UKLFI has dealt with situations where “such misconduct puts the students grades at risk because of their professor’s views.” In these cases, the legal organization has successfully advocated for the student’s work to be re-marked with the student receiving the grade they deserve. “Universities tend to be careful in such situations as reputational damage will occur,” so if a student truly believes that they are being discriminated against, external help can be extremely helpful.

General Advice:

When asked about what he thinks the most important things students should do, Jonathan mentioned that it’s important to stand for what you believe in. As it stands, pro-Israel students face growing opposition from both their peers and teachers. Higher education still purports to be an environment that welcomes diverse opinions. “Although it may be intimidating, it’s important to be able to explain your facts and reasoning. It has been found that students who do stand up for what they believe in and for Israel have been happier and more confident with themselves and their beliefs.” This rings true for all students, not just Zionists.

If students are met with bullying and hatred, it’s not their responsibility to conform to mob mentalities.

However, since it’s equally clear that the “adults in the room” are anything but, it’s important for students to maximize their situational awareness and pick their battles. It has been shown that pro-Palestinian activists on campus are not above using their power in student and professional unions to discriminate against or openly threaten Zionist students and staff. When students find themselves targeted by these thuggish attempts to silence free expression, organisations like UKLFI and CAMERA UK should be contacted. Both can act on behalf of or help those who are targeted navigate legal avenues and academic bureaucracy.

As always, students are urged to do what is best to keep themselves safe.

About the Author
Rojin is a 2023/24 CAMERA UK Fellow who studies at the University of Exeter.