SHU criticised over failure to consider antisemitism complaint

Last week, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) was reported to have ruled that Sheffield Hallam University should pay compensation to a student for dismissing his complaints about the behaviour of the university Palestine Society.

The anonymous student first filed an official complaint with the Sheffield Hallam University Students’ Union in June 2014.

This was rejected by the union Head of Student Engagement, who “did not think the content of the Palestine Society’s social media posts…were antisemitic.”

The complaint was then escalated to the university in May 2015, raising concerns about the material being posted online by the Palestine Society, which it suggested “crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel into antisemitism and harassment”.

This included Facebook and Twitter posts which:

“…accused Israel and Israelis of genocide, deliberately killing Palestinian children, deliberately killing other Palestinian civilians, war crimes, atrocities, using chemical weapons, ethnic cleansing, inhumanity, cruelty, behaving like Nazis, sexual and other abuse of Palestinian children (including abduction and human trafficking), stealing Palestinian organs, being racists and fascists, and rejoicing in Palestinian deaths.”

The student argued these had led to “an intimidating campus climate”, and used “lies and half-truths” to invoke old blood libels, “creating a threatening mob mentality”.

He also asked the university to consider adopting the EUMC International Working Definition of Antisemitism and develop procedures for dealing with antisemitic activity on-campus.

The university rejected the complaint after nine months, arguing that the evidence submitted was “not conclusive” and the complaint conflated criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

However, the OIA has now found that Sheffield Hallam University failed to properly examine whether the student was “likely to have been harassed” by the material, or to ask whether there was evidence of antisemitic behaviour.

It also stated that the university had “not explored adequately whether a hostile, intimidating, offensive or humiliating environment had been created”, and should have engaged with suggestions about adopting the EUMC definition.

As a result, the OIA has suggested Sheffield Hallam University should pay the student £3,000 in compensation.

This finding follows the payment of £1,000 compensation to a student at the University of York in June 2016 after he claimed to have faced antisemitic abuse from fellow students.

Here at Student Rights, we have highlighted the evidence of antisemitism on UK campuses, and hope that these cases will go some way towards ensuring that universities begin to take complaints from students more seriously.

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