Universities “urgently” need to tackle the rise of anti-Semitism on campus, according to the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lord Rowan Williams

Lord Rowan Williams

In a letter to a student at the University of York who had suffered anti-Semitic abuse, Lord Rowan Williams acknowledged a “poisonous” rise in anti-Semitism in higher education around the country.

The letter, reported by the Sunday Times, included details about how Williams had written to Universities Minister Jo Johnson urging government intervention.

Williams, who is Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, said the official response had so far been “muted”.

He said: “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.”

The letter was to Zachery Confino, a law student at the University of York, who received annonymous anti-Semitic abuse via social media, including one post which read: “Hitler was on to something.”

Williams warned people to be “scrupulously alert to the risk of scapegoating and demonising other religious communities, especially Jews,” adding: “Anyone with even the least bit of historical sense ought to hear the echoes of past bigotry and violence towards Jewish people in Europe.”