JEWISH students at universities are "denying or hiding" their identity because of discrimination, according to new claims.

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (Scojec) said it had evidence university staff had criticised student work on Israel because they did not agree with the point of view being expressed.

The council, which is the representative body for Jewish communities across Scotland, also said Jewish students had been "hounded" for not attending medical lectures on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at nightfall on Friday evening.

One student told Scojec: "I was told by my university that either I sit exams on Shabbat or I fail."

In another case, a student said she no longer went to the business school or library and was worried about attending classes "due to fear of being harassed or attacked".

Scojec also accused universities of not taking action when concerns had been raised adding: "It is troubling that when the Jewish Student Chaplaincy Scotland has intervened with the support of Scojec to assist Jewish students who find themselves subject to abuse, our concerns have been dismissed by senior university staff who appear not to recognise that there have been failures."

The allegations emerged as the Scottish Parliament scrutinises the Scottish Government's Higher Education Governance Bill, which proposes a new definition of academic freedom.

Scojec is concerned the new definition will make it harder for the rights of students to be defended in future.

Its official submission to the committee states: "We are aware of occasions when the academic freedom of both individual students and properly registered student organisations have been suppressed, in some cases by members of academic staff.

"We have evidence that the manner in which some academic and research staff have expressed views about the situation in the Middle East has contributed to both Jewish and Israeli students feeling compelled to deny or hide their Jewish identity at the very time in their lives when they should have the freedom to explore it.

"The issue is not that some academic and research staff hold views about the situation in the Middle East - that is their right. Nor is it simply that they have expressed those views in public - what concerns us greatly is the manner in which some staff have done so."

The submission also highlights public campaigns against universities when they seek research collaborations with Israeli academic institutions and staff and student protests over visits from prominent Israelis.

Examples include a visit in 2011 to Edinburgh University by a senior diplomat from the Israeli Embassy in London which was disrupted by critics.

Last year, Glasgow University was criticised by Israeli Embassy spokesman Yiftah Curiel for failing to adequately defend freedom of speech during his visit.

Vonnie Sandlan, president of student body NUS Scotland, said universities should be places of open learning and the sharing of ideas.

She said: "Everyone should have the right to hold firm political beliefs and undertake protest to achieve them, but that needs to stop short of behaviour which is unlawful, or intimidating and distressing."

The Herald:

Vonnie Sandlan

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents principals, said the sector had a "statutory and moral responsibility" to foster good relations and eliminate harassment and victimisation.

She added: "A university environment encourages debate and discussion of what can sometimes be very difficult and sensitive topics, but universities expect ’ views to be expressed respectfully."

In October, 10 Scotland-based academics were among more than 300 from British universities to announce a boycott of Israeli universities in protest of the "intolerable human rights violations" inflicted on the Palestinian people by Israel.

In 2011, four leading Jewish academics in Scotland quit the UCU lecturers' union over its stance on the definition of anti-Semitism including Ephraim Borowski, the former head of philosophy at Glasgow University, who is now director of Scojec.