Act on rising anti-Semitism, Jewish students tell UK universities

Spate of recent incidents include appearance on campuses of swastikas, flyers praising Holocaust denial

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis addresses London's anti- anti-Semitism rally Sunday, August 31, 2014. (courtesy Adam Arnold)
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis addresses London's anti- anti-Semitism rally Sunday, August 31, 2014. (courtesy Adam Arnold)

Jewish students and academics in the United Kingdom have become increasingly worried about growing anti-Semitism on British university campuses and are calling on university administrations to do more to combat the rising trend.

According to a Saturday report in the Guardian, the concerns were raised following a spate of anti-Semitic incidents at British universities. Most recently, a swastika was found carved into a door and a sign reading “Rights for Whites” was hung at the entrance to a dorm room at the University of Exeter earlier this week.

Other recent incidents include the appearance of flyers praising Holocaust denier David Irving and swastikas drawn around the campus at Cambridge University earlier this month.

The Community for Security Trust, a British anti-Semitism watchdog, stated in its most recent annual report that there were 41 cases of reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, nearly double 2015’s tally of 21, showing that anti-Semitism on campuses is indeed growing rapidly.

Baroness Ruth Deech, a Jewish cross-bench peer in the House of Lords and first ever independent adjudicator for higher education handling student complaints, called on universities to “rise up and condemn” anti-Semitism on campuses. She told the Guardian that she sees parallels between the current situation and how her parents were attacked for being Jewish while at European universities in the run-up to the Holocaust.

Baroness Ruth Deech (Wikimedia Commons, John Cairns, CC0)
Baroness Ruth Deech (Wikimedia Commons, John Cairns, CC0)

“In the 1920s and 1930s discrimination against Jews started in German, Austrian and Polish universities, long before the second world war,” Deech said, while adding that “attacks on Jewish students in universities today should be seen as the canary in the coalmine. It starts there and it spreads.”

In an interview in December with The Telegraph, Deech pointed to the large sums of donations many British universities receive from countries such as Saudi Arabia as a possible reason for why so little has been done by campus administrations to combat anti-Semitism, speculating that maybe they are “afraid of offending” potential donors from Gulf states.

While much of the attention has been focused in recent years on anti-Semitism emanating from the far-left, most notably as a result of a number of controversial statements made by Labour Party politicians, David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London, claimed the most recent cases instead seem to be the work of the far-right.

“My impression is this is coming from a different place to incidents that arise in the context of criticizing Israel. This is straightforward anti-Semitism and it’s coming from the right,” he said.

The National Union of Students President Malia Bouattia echoed Feldman’s claim, telling the Guardian that the uptick is attributable to Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump, both of which drew support from anti-Semitic fringes on the far-right.

Oxford University (Shutterstock)
Oxford University (Shutterstock)

Josh Nagli, the campaigns director for the Union of Jewish Students, told the Guardian that while he does not consider the recent rise in anti-Semitism to be of serious concern, the multiplicity of incidents at different campuses suggests a level of coordination.

While statistics “suggest that reported incidents of anti-Semitism in universities remain low,” Universities UK, a representative organization for British universities, told the Guardian, “even a single incident is one too many.”

Universities UK called on students to be vigilant in reporting any cases of anti-Semitism.

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