Gillian Keegan, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, has sent a letter (below) to every university vice-chancellor which is breathtaking in its one-sidedness. It expresses concern, repeatedly and at length, for the hurt to Jewish students that might be caused by messages about the violence in and around Gaza, especially from student societies that support the Palestinian cause. But it has no word to say about sensitivity to the potential distress of Palestinian students, including those with family in Gaza.

One sentence is especially chilling for freedom of speech. It asks VCs to “pay particular attention to any invitations issued by staff and students on this subject”. This is a request, one might almost say an instruction, to limit freedom of speech according to Government specification. For a Government that has recently appointed a ‘Free Speech Czar’ to oversee universities this is a breathtaking example of not letting one side of your brain know what the other is doing.


The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP
Secretary of State for Education

Sanctuary Buildings 20 Great Smith Street Westminster London SW1P 3BT
tel: 0370 000 2288


11th October 2023

Dear Vice Chancellor,

Following the barbaric terrorist attacks upon Israel at the weekend, we are writing to
express our deep concern for the welfare of Jewish students.

We have seen evidence of a number of student societies that support Palestinians
sending out inflammatory messages that show support for Hamas, which is, as you
know, a proscribed terrorist organisation. Not only are such statements of
questionable legality, but they are also deeply troubling and hurtful to Jewish people,
given that so many have friends and family based in Israel. The effects of these
statements are already being felt by Jewish students, many of whom are being made
to feel that they need to hide their Jewish identity. Some are wary of expressing
themselves for fear of being held accountable for actions taking place in the Middle
East. All this is, of course, compounded, by the grossly insensitive and unhelpful
statement put out today by UCU, who represent some of the very lecturers that
Jewish students would be looking to for support.

We know that you will share our unequivocal condemnation of these horrific attacks
and are also mindful of their potential impact upon Jewish students, especially those
who are just beginning their studies. We ask that you act swiftly and decisively
against any threats, be they implicit or explicit, to their safety and welfare.

It is important in this respect to remind you that the Prevent duty requires relevant
higher education providers, when exercising their functions, to have due regard to
the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. We would also ask that
you pay particular attention to any invitations issued by staff or students at your
institution to speakers on this subject in order to ensure that any such events do not
provide a platform for illegal speech. The Department for Education’s regional
Prevent coordinator network can provide additional support. If you do not already
have a relationship with your regional coordinator, you can find further information
here: Regional Prevent coordinators – GOV.UK (

We would ask that you act quickly and appropriately if you become aware of any
antisemitic abuse, harassment or discrimination. If you have a JSoc at your
institution, please liaise closely with them on such matters. In short, we are asking
that you do whatever you can to actively provide Jewish students with the
reassurance they need, now and in the weeks and months to come to go about their
lives, and pursue their studies, without fear of harassment or intimidation. We would
be very grateful if you could communicate this message of reassurance both to your
Jewish students, and the wider student community.

We know that you will do all you can on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

The Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP                                                                                               Secretary of State for Education

The Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP                                                                                                Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education