The university will also conduct an investigation into his claims.
A Jewish student who attended the SOAS University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) has received a full tuition refund (15,000 British pounds — slightly over $20,000) after filing a complaint to the school regarding the toxic antisemitism he experienced as a student there. The university will also conduct an investigation into his claims.
The news of the refund and investigation came on Dec. 29, after the student, Noah Lewis, appealed an original decision from the school that offered an apology for the emotional trauma Lewis endured and compensation of only 500 pounds — about $680.
The original decision “didn’t really acknowledge any of my concerns, and they offered me essentially 500 pounds to just get lost, in a way,” Lewis, who now attends law school at the University of Detroit-Mercy and University of Windsor, told the Detroit Jewish News.
Lewis feels the new decision to refund his entire tuition legitimizes his claim that the school has a culture of antisemitism and inflexibility when it comes to differing viewpoints.
“It’s a very left-wing school, which isn’t an issue,” Lewis said. But “the best way I can say it is you’re either with them [or] against them … Being supportive of Israel, or not necessarily agreeing that Israel is the biggest threat to peace and all that stuff, puts you in a different camp.”
Lewis attended the school during the 2018-2019 academic year, choosing the program for its prestigious international studies and diplomacy curriculum. He knew the topic of Israel would come up in his classes, and he was prepared to receive some pushback for his support of the country.
‘ZIONISM EQUALS NAZISM’
But he wasn’t prepared for the degree of anti-Israel sentiment he perceived in his courses. Zionism was sometimes compared to Nazism, he told the JN. Every day on his way to class he’d see a sign taped to the window of the building that said “SOAS for BDS,” referring to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
“It was always putting Israel into the negative way,” he said. “They promote themselves as being a very diverse learning environment, which is absolutely true, but it stops when it comes to Jewish people wanting to be heard.”
Lewis decided to leave the program early, after classes had finished but before he wrote a dissertation. He had toyed with the idea of writing about cultural bias against Israel at the United Nations, but he’d already gotten backlash from peers when he posted his idea on an online forum. He realized it was unlikely the idea would get approved or that he’d find a professor willing to help him with the project.
When he got back home to Toronto in the spring of 2019, he began to put together his thoughts on the climate at the school.
“I’d already known about what the school was, and I started to hear that there were a lot more instances from in the past and people who had expressed similar views to me,” he said.
That led to the submission of an official complaint to the school, and to the subsequent appeal. The Lawfare Project, which provides pro bono legal services to Jewish people engaged in civil rights cases, and UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) assisted Lewis throughout the process.
The SOAS appeal panel said in its decision that it was clear the original complaint hadn’t been properly investigated.
“The panel considered the objection that it would be inappropriate for every complaint from any individual student to trigger a full scale and meticulous, perhaps external, investigation of the whole culture at the School and the Student Union … But it also came to the view that in this instance, there was a prima facie case which did warrant such a full investigation,” the panel said in its statement, which was quoted on the UKFLI website.
Lewis is satisfied with the outcome of the appeal and hopes to see real change come out of the situation. A new director of the school, South African Professor Adam Habib, joins this month.
“I’m very happy that I was able to raise awareness, and I’m hoping that the new director who’s coming into place at the school won’t try to do anything to interfere with or prevent this ongoing investigation because I still think that’s something very important that needs to go on,” he said.