The head of St Andrews University has “unreservedly condemned” abuse against the institution’s rector during an ongoing antisemitism row.
Dame Sally Mapstone said “racism is utterly abhorrent in all its forms” as she attempted to quell growing anger over an email sent to students by new rector Stella Maris.
And while Ms Maris has stopped short of an apology, she has agreed to enter into mediation with the university in a bid to re-establish confidence.
Dame Sally said: “She and I will work together to try to restore an environment of inclusivity and respect.”
The rector is facing calls to apologise over last week’s email, which accused Israel of genocide in Gaza.
She said Palestinians have suffered “apartheid, siege, illegal occupation and collective punishment” during the Israel-Gaza war.
Around 1,600 students, parents and alumni have since demanded she withdraw her remarks or resign just a month after taking up the role.
And The St Andrews Jewish Society has also condemned the comments as “divisive, harmful and not based on fact”.
St Andrews University rector ‘will put students interests ahead of all else’
Dame Sally said: “The rector wishes to acknowledge the distress which elements of her message have caused.
“She also wishes it to be known that she will advocate for the voices of Palestinian, Jewish, BAME and other groups of students affected directly, and indirectly, by the war and Gaza and Israel to be heard.
“I wish to acknowledge the rector’s stated commitment to put student interests ahead of all else.
“And I wish to unreservedly condemn the abuse she has received from sources outside the university in the wake of her message.
“Racism is utterly abhorrent, in all its forms.
“The rector and I intend to pursue further mediation with the aim of restoring confidence amongst all in our community that St Andrews is a place in which all should feel safe, heard and supported.”
The principal expressed hope the move would find support across the “peace-loving, principled but inclusive community”.
University denies suppressing right to free speech
St Andrews University said at the weekend it was “dismayed” by Ms Maris’s comments.
However, it later denied it was trying to suppress her right to free speech.
Vice-principal (communications) Niall Scott said the rector’s personal views on the Gaza-Israel conflict had caused distress to a significant section of the student community.
He said her email linked to a report entitled “The Evidence Israel Killed Its Own Citizens on October 7”.
And on social media, she reposted a source alleged to have promoted antisemitic material and hate speech.
Mr Scott said this led to a very damaging but untrue perception that the rector is anti-Jewish.
And he added: “This is an issue of the duties of student representation, not freedom of speech.”