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London college refunds student who left due to ‘toxic anti-Semitism’

SOAS University says it is ‘extremely concerned’ about allegations, will establish a panel to further look into complaints filed by Canadian Noah Lewis

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. (Google street view)
London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. (Google street view)

A London college has refunded a Jewish student £15,000 (NIS 65,000) in tuition fees after he dropped out due to what he termed a “toxic antisemitic environment,” UK Lawyers for Israel, the legal group representing him, said in a statement Tuesday.

The sum was agreed on in a settlement between SOAS University of London and Noah Lewis, a Canadian student who attended the school for the academic year of 2018-19. Lewis claimed he pulled out of his studies because of anxiety triggered by campus anti-Semitism. He returned to Canada and demanded his tuition be returned.

“The anti-Semitic climate that has taken hold on UK campuses like SOAS cannot be allowed to persist and I strongly urge fellow students who have suffered similar experiences to speak out,” Lewis said in a statement from the UKLFI. “This is the only way that we will affect positive change.”

In its own statement, the university, which specializes in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East, said: “SOAS is extremely concerned about any allegations of anti-Semitism at our School. We cannot comment on any individual student case or the outcomes of any appeal. However, where we have established an independent panel as part of a complaints process, we would of course consider the findings of such a panel thoroughly and take appropriate action.”

In May 2019, UKLFI filed a complaint on behalf of Lewis in which he said that Jews and those who were pro-Israel were labeled “Zionists”; that anti-Semitic graffiti and symbols were daubed on lockers, desks and toilet walls; and that other students openly stated support for the movement to boycott Israel.

After he asked classmate for their opinion on a dissertation he was planning to write on “systemic biases that exist in the United Nations and target the State of Israel” fellow students accused him of covering up Israeli war crimes and called him a “white supremacist Nazi,” he said.

In his complaint Lewis wrote that as a grandson of Holocaust survivors, he felt that being called a “Nazi” was “amongst the most offensive thing you can call a Jew, and to be called one by individuals on campus was a horrific experience for me.”

A July 2019 panel that looked into his allegations offered an apology for emotional trauma “experienced due to the perceived antisemitic discrimination which he had to endure” and suggested £500, the Guardian newspaper reported.

Lewis appealed that decision and in March 2020 an appeal panel found that the original investigation “had not been adequate” and there was reason to hold another probe, even if a settlement between the Lewis and SOAS was reached.

Jonathan Turner, executive director of UKLFI Charitable Trust, said in the group’s statement, “The panel grasped the nettle and has set a benchmark of best practice which should be followed in other cases where there is prima facie evidence of an antisemitic environment.”

According to the Guardian there is pressure on British universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which includes holding Jews collectively accountable for Israeli policy and equating Israeli policy with Nazism.

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