Former Archbishop of Canterbury 'shocked' by antisemitic rhetoric at universities

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan WilliamsAndrew Winning/Reuters

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said he is "very shocked" by the rise in antisemitic rhetoric at British universities.

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, now master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, has written to the Government's universities minister Jo Johnson to complain about the "muted" response to Jew-hatred on campuses.

His protest came after reports of antisemitism among members of Oxford University Labour Club and incidents at York and in London, the Jewish Chronicle noted.

The Sunday Times revealed that Lord Williams wrote to a Jewish student, Zachary Confino, at York University, who had suffered antisemitic abuse.

Lord Williams wrote: "It is truly appalling stuff but sadly seems not to be that unusual at the moment. It's ironic that just as we are waking up to all sorts of ways in which 'hate speech' works we should lose sight of one of the most ancient and poisonous forms of it, in the shape of anti-semitic rhetoric."

He continued: "Anyone concerned (as I am) about Islamophobia here and elsewhere needs to be scrupulously alert to the risk of scapegoating and demonising other religious communities, especially Jews; and anyone with even the least bit of historical sense ought to hear the echoes of past bigotry and violence towards Jewish people in Europe."

Lord Williams said he was "dispirited" by the failure of Christian chaplains at York to support Confino. "You'd expect a more simply empathetic engagement," he said, adding that no degree of opposition to the policies of a government "can possibly justify the appalling language I have seen used about Jews in general".

Police have disclosed they are investigating claims of antisemitism at the university, where Palestinian supporters recently performed Seven Jewish Children, a controversial play by Caryl Churchill.