A Leeds university emeritus professor suggested pro-Palestinian activists should demonstrate outside a Jewish student centre before it was sprayed with graffiti in “a hate crime”, according to WhatsApp messages.
Activists in the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group were considering a response to the planned appearance at the university of an Israeli rapper earlier in the week.
In a WhatsApp discussion between members of the group, the chair, emeritus professor James Dickins, forwarded a message saying: “Hey guys, does anyone know about this individual? He will be coming to Leeds Uni to give a talk on 7 Feb.
“Maybe something to cover as part of a national day of work/university action?”
Prof Dickins, a scholar of Arabic, added: “I think a coordinated response is needed from Leeds PSC, and staff at Leeds University.”
As the WhatsApp discussion continued, Mr Dickins, 66 wrote in an apparent reference to the location arranged for rapper Noah Shufutinsky’s appearance that the “place they’re referring to is the Hillel house [centre for Jewish students]”.
On Feb 8, Hillel House was daubed with graffiti proclaiming “free Palestine”. Students had met at the centre earlier that day to make a traditional Jewish bread known as challah.
There is no suggestion Prof Dickins was involved in the decision to daub graffiti on the student centre.
West Yorkshire Police have said the graffiti vandalism is being treated as a hate crime and are appealing for witnesses.
Unrelated to the incident outside Hillel House, a Jewish chaplain at the university has gone into hiding with his family after receiving death threats. Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch has been subjected to a hate campaign over his role in the Israel Defense Forces, the Daily Mail reported.
The Union of Jewish Students and Leeds Jewish society said in a statement: “We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc [Jewish society] Hillel House was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.
“It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level. For nearly 70 years the Hillel House has stood as a place of safety and community for Jewish students in Leeds, untouched by such despicable behaviour.
“The University of Leeds has serious questions to answer as to how an environment was allowed to be created where a Leeds professor deemed it acceptable to publicise the location of a Jewish building.
“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences that they deserve.”
‘We will take appropriate action’
A spokesman for the University of Leeds said: “We are aware of social media comments made by a retired member of our staff. We are currently investigating whether they breach any of the university’s policies or procedures, and if necessary, will take appropriate action.”
On the vandalism incident, the spokesman told The Jewish Chronicle: “We are deeply saddened that our Jewish community appears to have been targeted by this criminal act.
“The university takes incidents of this nature extremely seriously and the safety and welfare of our students and staff is our number-one priority. We recognise that students and staff across our community have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza, and will continue to provide support across our campus.
“We are working with West Yorkshire Police and the property owners as they investigate this incident, and have supported the UJC in swiftly cleaning and repainting the property.”