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Prime Minister to meet university leaders following campus protests

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, More than 100 people in Cambridge protested against the war in Gaza this week

Campus protests against the Israel-Gaza war “cannot target individuals” or disrupt learning, the education secretary said.

Gillian Keegan told BBC News the government defends the right to free speech, but “it must be done in a respectful way.”

She joins the Prime Minister and university leaders to discuss the fight against anti-Semitism.

Universities say they take anti-Semitism on campus “very seriously.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned that the protests were disrupting learning on university campuses and, in some cases, “spreading real anti-Semitic harassment and abuse”.

He will call on vice-chancellors to ensure the protection of Jewish students.

Ms Keegan told BBC Radio 4’s Today program the meeting was about supporting vice-chancellors in defending free speech, but also about protecting students.

“This is not an easy thing to do, we understand that,” she said, adding that some vice-chancellors had taken “firm action”.

“We need to show leadership, we need to de-escalate the situation and we need to share the best practices that we have seen from some vice-chancellors.”

“Toxic atmosphere”

The encampments that have appeared on a minority of British university campuses in recent days and weeks are much smaller than those in the United States.

But the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) warned it was creating a “hostile and toxic atmosphere for Jewish students”.

Protesters, meanwhile, told BBC News they were “completely peaceful.”

Universities UK, which represents more than 140 universities, published guidance for universities on tackling antisemitism in 2021.

A representative said there had been a rise in anti-Semitism on campuses since October 7, adding that universities were taking this “very seriously and working hard to ensure the safety of Jewish staff and students.”

“In line with the sector’s clear commitment to freedom of expression, it is important that universities enable and support students and staff to debate and discuss this crisis and the difficult issues it raises, but in compliance with the law, with respect and tolerance,” they said. added.