Trinity ‘capitulates to mob’ charge

Trinity ‘capitulates to mob’ charge

For Jewish News May 2024

Dr Ed Abrahamson, who cancelled his family’s bursary for disadvantaged students at Trinity College Dublin, in protest at the university’s failure to protect Jewish students, told Jewish News this week that no attempt was made by Trinity to persuade him to change his mind.

Instead, he said, Trinity had “given in to the mob” and had capitulated to a series of demands from pro-Palestinian students, including disinvestment from Israeli companies. An encampment on the Trinity campus had blocked access to the major public attraction held by the university, the Book of Kells. After a series of negotiations between the university and the leaders of the protest, the encampment has now been wound up.

The Abrahamson family had sought to honour the late Maurice Abrahamson, a hugely respected figure in Ireland and the Irish Jewish community. Dr Abrahamson said: “He was a graduate of Trinity, he was president of the Irish Jewish Representative Council, he was active in helping to set up the Israeli embassy in Ireland”.

As “it was coming up to the 10th anniversary of my father’s death”, the family decided last year to set up a bursary for disadvantaged students in Maurice Abrahamson’s name at the School of Law. Three students successfully applied for the bursary and received funding — the plan was to run the scheme for 10 years. Dr Abrahamson said that even when the bursary was first announced, he had ensured that it was clear that it was in honour of a Jewish man.

But more and more troubling things kept concerning the Abrahamson family, from Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine flags flying at the student encampment, to anguished complaints by members of the 100-strong Jewish student society that they did not feel safe on campus, and that neither Trinity nor the student Union were doing enough to protect them.
Dr Abrahamson wrote to the Trinity authorities expressing his concerns. He asked for a statement “to say that Trinity was committed to the welfare of Jewish students.” He sought, unsuccessfully, a meeting with the Trinity Provost, something which he is still pursuing.

He said: “Nothing happened, there was no response. But within a few days of the encampment being set up, Trinity issued a statement which displayed total capitulation to mob rule”. The family felt it had no alternative but to cancel the bursary and made that decision public.

Dr Abrahamson said: “There was no attempt to change my mind, but I couldn’t have my father’s name associated with Trinity.” Nevertheless, he said, he had had “a huge amount of positive messages from Irish non-Jews, including people who had given large bursaries and legacies — and who were cancelling them”.

In a lengthy statement, Trinity said: “We are very grateful to Dr Abrahamson for this student bursary. His generosity has been greatly appreciated. We regret and respect his decision to withdraw the bursary”.  

A Trinity spokesperson said: “Through recent engagement with the Trinity Jewish Society, Trinity has offered Jewish students a safe space to meet on campus or adjacent to it, and will continue to provide any support that is needed. 

“The university has already stated that all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, have absolutely no place here”.

Asked by JN if the very provision of a “safe space” only confirmed the claim by Jewish students that it was not safe for them on the Trinity campus, the spokesman said: “A ‘safe’ space in this context should be interpreted as a space where students can gather, express their concerns, have those concerns listened to and also to provide support from members of the Student Services teams in College. This is the intent of this offering and is in response to Jewish students indicating they do not feel ‘safe’.  Engagement with Jewish students is ongoing”.

Trinity has announced details of its divestment from Israeli companies as part of its resolution in getting the encampment removed. It says: “Trinity will complete a divestment from equity investments in Israeli companies that have activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and appear on the UN Blacklist in this regard. This process is expected to be completed by June.  

“Trinity will endeavour to divest from investments in other Israeli companies. This issue will be considered by a task force as a first step. On review, Trinity can confirm that its supplier list currently contains just one Israeli company which will remain until March 2025 for contractual reasons.   

The task force, Trinity says, “will also review Trinity’s student exchanges with Israel. Recommendations from the task force will be brought to the relevant principal committees of the university”. Meanwhile, it has identified places for eight Palestinian scholars —six postgraduates and two undergraduates, and has waived all fees for them, adding: “We are committed to doing more and indicated this to the Palestinian authorities, via the ambassador earlier this year`”. 

The university added: “We fully understand the driving force behind the encampment on our campus and we are in solidarity with the students in our horror at what is happening in Gaza. We abhor and condemn all violence and war, including the atrocities of October 7, the taking of hostages and the continuing ferocious and disproportionate onslaught in Gaza. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the dehumanisation of its people is obscene”. 

Dr Abrahamson said that “many, many people” had sent him messages “of support and strength” after his decision to cancel the bursary. He added: “To those who have sent vile abuse, I am not scared. I am a proud Jew. We will not tremble”.

  • 15 May, 2024