Student reveals ordeal after uni awards him £15k over ‘antisemitic environment’

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Student reveals ordeal after uni awards him £15k over ‘antisemitic environment’

Noah Lewis tells Jewish News how his excitement at studying in London turned into a nightmare on a campus when he was branded a 'Nazi' by classmates

Anti-Israel demonstrators at SOAS
Anti-Israel demonstrators at SOAS

A Jewish student branded a “Nazi” by classmates at SOAS has told how his excitement at studying in London turned into a nightmare that forced him to leave, as he welcomed a £15000 refund from the university.

Canada-born Noah Lewis joined School of Oriental and African Studies’ International Studies and Diplomacy graduate course in 2018 but left the university amid what he described as a “toxic antisemitic environment”. The experience, he said, led to a decline in his mental health.

As a student, he says he was accused of being a “white supremacist Nazi” after wanting to write his dissertation on “systematic biases that exist in the United Nations and target the State of Israel”. He also reported antisemitic graffiti across the university’s property; overarching support for the anti-Israel BDS boycott movement; and claimed that Jews and pro-Israel students were dismissed as “Zionists”.

Last week, the school agreed to the refund after Lewis appealed the school’s initial decision to compensate him just £500. At the time, the investigating panel apologised on behalf of SOAS for the “emotional trauma…experienced due to the perceived antisemitic discrimination which he had to endured”.

But an appeal panel earlier this year recommended a new investigation because the original focused om specific incidents rather than the more general allegation of a toxic environment.

In his first interview since the decision, the research analyst said: “As someone with a deep interest in this area of study I was excited to have the opportunity to study in London, a major hub for all things diplomatic. I was well aware that given this course’s international focus, I would be confronted with differing views from my own.

“What I never expected of my experience was to be subjected to such a toxic antisemitic environment, especially from a school that has the reputation of placing diversity first and foremost.”

Lewis, who is now pursuing a dual Canadian-American law degree at the University of Windsor and the University of Detroit Mercy, added: “During my experience at SOAS I quickly learnt that students who diverge from what are deemed as the “mainstream” views on campus are ostracised and labelled accordingly.”

Supported by the UK Lawyers for Israel organisation, he lodged an official complaint in May 2019. In July, the panel recommended that £500 should be returned to Mr Lewis for his “perceived antisemitic discrimination”.

Appealing the outcome, Mr Lewis received £15,000 from the school last week. Reacting to the settlement, he said: “I am pleased with the outcome as it clearly indicates the university’s role in failing to address the egregious toxic environment that some students are forced to experience. I was also pleased that this settlement did not cause a premature termination of the investigation, which I believe is necessary to be completed.”

UKLFI Executive Director Jonathan Turner said: “We congratulate Noah Lewis on pursuing the complaint and hope that other students who experience antisemitism at universities will now be encouraged to object. Organisations such as ours are here to help.”

There is currently no Jewish Society at SOAS. According to UKLFI, the Union of Jewish Students have received “many reports about SOAS being a hostile environment for Jews.

“[The] UJS was concerned that no student at SOAS was willing to be an officer of the Jewish Society this year, so it is no longer operating.”

SOAS has yet to say whether it will accept the recommendation of a new probe. A spokesperson for SOAS said: “SOAS is extremely concerned about any allegations of antisemitism at our school.

“Diversity is key to the SOAS mission and we want all our students to feel welcome and supported in their studies. We have a robust student complaints and appeals process, but 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.”

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