Across the UK, Jewish students are winning the fight against antisemitism

Students' Union, University of Essex, Colchester Campus
Students' Union, University of Essex, Colchester Campus

In Essex, Coventry and across the UK Jewish students are winning the fight against antisemitism

This week saw a disgusting and disturbing example of antisemitism on campus. A university lecturer objected to the establishment of a Jewish society by insinuating that “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our university!”. Some of his other posts allegedly promoted Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories. We were also shocked that over 200 students voted against the establishment of a Jewish Society.

Whilst the events of this week were distressing, they have also demonstrated the courage and capabilities of our student volunteers and sabbatical team.

We can also find some comfort in the broad base of support from the wider student community. In this case many societies and hundreds more students expressed support for the Jewish Society than those voting against it. The announcement this morning of immediate action from the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Essex illustrate the swift, strong and sensitive action we can demand and secure from institutions that take the welfare of Jewish students seriously.

The concerning developments with antisemitism on campus and the proactive, passionate and successful response of our activists and allies extends beyond Essex.

For the first time in three years the Community Security Trust (CST) showed an increase in the number of recorded antisemitic incidents affecting students. Since the start of 2019 campuses have seen Swastikas and “the Jews deserved it”, events comparing Israel to the Nazis, and 212 students voting against the internationally accepted definition of antisemitism.

Far from cowering in the corner, Jewish students are taking the fight to the racists. Jewish student leaders, their peers and allies are mobilising against hate, and just as we have this week at the University of Essex, they are winning.

In September, political pressure on an individual sitting on NUS’ NEC forced him to resign, having contravened NUS’ policy on IHRA by endorsing the Rothschild conspiracy and comparing the actions of the State of Israel to those of the Nazis.

In December 2018 the Office for Students became the latest national and university sector body to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, following NUS who did so in 2017.

Earlier this year, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission [EHRC] guidance on free speech on campus included many of UJS’ recommendations, including preventing speakers from inciting violence on campuses and protecting the rights of Israeli speakers and Friends of Israel Societies to hold events uninterrupted.

The ignorance of students once again daubing disgusting antisemitic comments and Swastikas at “white T-shirt parties” is disturbing, especially as we have seen this at four campuses this academic year. The swift and robust response by both the Students’ Union and the university indicate that clearer zero tolerance measures are being used to combat the spread of hatred.

The University of Liverpool promptly distanced themselves from a lecturer found to have appeared on notorious antisemite David Icke’s talk show and making various antisemitic claims.

Perhaps most impressive and most important has been the dedication and determination of Jewish students and the student movement to learn about and from the horrors of the Holocaust. Our partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust saw over 120 SU sabbaticals and university leaders visit Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of a three-part programme. There have been audiences regularly exceeding 300 people at Holocaust Memorial Day events organised by Jewish Students, Students’ Unions, LGBT Societies and Faith Societies on campuses from East Anglia to York. We expect that over 6,000 people will have participated in Holocaust education and activity tackling prejudice by the completion of this year’s HMD activities.

The increase in recorded incidents of antisemitism on campus is concerning, even more so within the context of three consecutive years of record high totals for antisemitic incidents throughout society. The ignorance and invitation to preach hate at a handful of campuses must be met with a forceful response.

We can draw strength and comfort from the tenacious work of Jewish students to expand recognition for the distinct nature and manifestation of antisemitism; secure swift disciplinary action from SU and university authorities; build alliances and deliver the education that achieves the longer-term change and impact that will ultimately eradicate hate.

Many will look at campuses and see simply a bleak picture, and there are certainly darker moments. However, with their fellow students’ unions, university leadership, and nationally with the Office for Students and Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Jewish students are winning the fight against antisemitism.

About the Author
Daniel Kosky is Campaigns Organiser for the Union of Jewish Students.
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