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Universities must protect minorities from discrimination, Welby tells synagogue audience

14 July 2023

Dr Nicholas Posner

Dr Simon Sebag Montefiore and the Archbishop of Canterbury in conversation at Bevis Marks Synagogue, on Wednesday of last week

Dr Simon Sebag Montefiore and the Archbishop of Canterbury in conversation at Bevis Marks Synagogue, on Wednesday of last week

“THERE are no ‘no-go’ areas,” the Archbishop of Canterbury told the historian Dr Simon Sebag Montefiore, his interviewer for the afternoon, before they took the platform in Bevis Marks Synagogue last week.

Media coverage of the event focused on a comment that Archbishop Welby had made about the need for universities to protect transgender students, among other minorities, from discrimination

Responding to a question from Dr Sebag Montefiore about what could be done about anti-Semitism in British universities, Archbishop Welby said: “Universities that allow it to be tolerated, if there is systemic ‘anti’ any category, whether it’s Jewish people, Jewish societies, whether it’s trans people — whatever it is, whether you agree with them or not — should have really quite serious consequences in terms of the recognition of their authority, their position, and their funding.”

Speaking more generally, the Archbishop described anti-Semitism as the “taproot of all racism: if it is permissible to hate Jews, its permissible to hate all those who are different from ourselves.”

Archbishop Welby and Dr Sebag Montefiore also discussed the Church of England’s past involvement in the persecution of Jewish people, and the need for repentance.

The Church, the Archbishop said, had “only recently seen the need for repentance”, but outlined a distinction between repentance and reparations.

The latter, he suggested, was possible only while victims remained alive, but it was important that repentance involved actions as well as words. He gave as an example the Church Commissioners’ decision, at the start of this year, to launch a £100-million “impact investment fund” to mitigate the long-term consequences of the endowment’s connection with the transatlantic slave trade (News, 10 January).

The event, described by the Rabbi of Bevis Marks, Shalom Morris, as “two well-respected scholars in conversation”, was organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Introducing the speakers, the President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, made reference to Archbishop Welby’s support for the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, in 2019, when the latter accused Jeremy Corbyn, then leader of the Labour Party, of letting anti-Semitism go unchecked (News, 29 November 2019).

“Archbishop Welby stood with us at a very dark hour, and we will never forget it,” Ms van der Zyl said.

She also thanks Archbishop Welby for his support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism (News, 7 September 2018).

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