UK Jewish students blame Labour party for campus anti-Semitism – report

Amid claims Corbyn should have dealt better with prejudice, BBC finds secondary school students considering anti-Semitic incidents when choosing university

Illustrative: Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn poses for photographers as he arrives to cast his vote for local council elections at a polling station in Holloway, London, May 3, 2018. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
Illustrative: Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn poses for photographers as he arrives to cast his vote for local council elections at a polling station in Holloway, London, May 3, 2018. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

British Jewish students are not applying to certain UK universities because of fears over anti-Semitism, which they say have increased as a result of the Labour Party’s failure to deal with the issue within its own ranks, the BBC’s Newsbeat radio show reported on Monday.

Allegations of Labour anti-Semitism have grown since Jeremy Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian socialist, was elected leader of Britain’s main opposition party in 2015. Some in and out of the party say Corbyn, a longtime critic of Israeli policies, has allowed anti-Jewish abuse to go unchecked.

The outgoing national chair of Labour students, Melantha Chittenden, told Newsbeat the party leadership has not made enough of an effort to confront anti-Semitic sentiments in the party.

“It’s stopping Jewish students from being able to go to the campuses they want to or even engage in activities they want to on campus,” she said. “That’s very problematic and I don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn wants that to be happening. He needs to challenge the problem head-on.”

Dave Rich, of the Community Security Trust, which deals with Jewish security, told Newsbeat that anti-Israel campaigns on campus are an opening for anti-Semitism.

“They can create an atmosphere where Jewish students feel incredibly uncomfortable and those people who do have anti-Semtitic attitudes feel confident to express them,” Rich said.

Corbyn, before being elected Labour leader, once referred to members of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups as his “friends.” He has since said he regrets those comments.

Josh Holt, of the Union of Jewish Students, had no doubts that Labour’s issues with anti-Semitism have led to an increase of such sentiments on campus.

“I think that if you look at the situation with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, it is clear there is a link – you are seeing more anti-Semitic incidents,” Holt told Newsbeat. “That’s because it’s more permissible. You can get away with acting in this way.”

The BBC radio show visited the northwestern city of Manchester, home to one of Britain’s largest Jewish communities, and spoke with Jewish high school students.

One pupil, identified only as Sam, said he discounted one university he would have liked to attend because of occurrences of anti-Semitism.

“That university had incidents in the past of anti-Semitism and my parents said to me they wouldn’t feel comfortable with me going, so I didn’t apply,” he said.

Others said that when selecting a university, they would take into consideration what support was available for facing anti-Semitism on campus.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of Holocaust Education Trust (courtesy)

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, gave examples of open anti-Semitism on campus this year, citing a university Facebook group chat that said “Six million Jews ain’t enough” and a university where during student orientation week T-shirts were handed out with a slogan saying the Holocaust was “a good time.”

“It’s shocking that someone would write this stuff and it’s shocking that someone would distribute it,” Pollock said.

Labour declined to be interviewed for the show, saying instead in a statement: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously, which are fully investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with our rules and procedures.”

“Labour’s new General Secretary Jennie Formby has made it her first priority to speed up and strengthen our procedures and to develop a program of political education to create deeper awareness and understanding about all forms of anti-Semitism,” the statement read.

A furor erupted earlier this year over a six-year-old Facebook post by Corbyn supporting an artist who painted a street mural that included anti-Semitic stereotypes. Corbyn said he regretted not looking closely at the “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic” mural before offering support to the artist.

In response, around 1,500 protesters massed outside the British parliament in March in an unprecedented rally organized by the usually publicity-averse Anglo-Jewish leadership.

UK Labour Party chair Jeremy Corbyn meeting with Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush and Chief Executive Gillian Merron, February 9, 2016. (courtesy)

In what appeared to be an attempt to heal the rift, Corbyn met with Jewish leaders to discuss anti-Semitism in his party. However, according to an account of the meeting later leaked to the Mail on Sunday, Corbyn appeared “bored, uninterested and condescending.” He apparently lacked the “emotional or intellectual ability” to comprehend the demands of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, when he met with the two groups on April 24, the report said.

According to the report, Corbyn only became animated with a “convulsion” when someone in the room told him that he was a “Zionist” for supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an interview with the Telegraph published at the end of May, Jonathan Arkush, the outgoing president of the Board of Deputies, Anglo Jewry’s main representative organization, alleged that the Labour leader has anti-Semitic views and that he is causing British Jews to question their future in the country.

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