Last week I had the pleasure of running sessions in two schools – one Jewish, one non-Jewish. With the J-Soc at the non-Jewish school I started by giving them an idea of the number of Jewish students in the country (roughly 8,500), and then asking them a question; “How many incidents of antisemitism do you think are recorded every year?” One student said 600, one said 800, and one thought it must be 1200.
“25”, I told them. They were not only shocked, but deeply confused.
I had a similar reaction at the Jewish school I visited. “That’s got to be a lie!”, one young woman commented; “That doesn’t make sense!”
This gives us only a snapshot into the minds of ambitious young people, eagerly awaiting the moment they step onto campus for the first time, but utterly terrified of what they’ll find beneath the surface. The facts, as they exist, have been skewed and sensationalised to the point where young Jewish people believe that they cannot be who they want to be or get involved in the activities they want to, because of who they are.
This narrative does a complete disservice to the future of our Jewish community.
When we base our Jewish identity solely on those who hate us, we ignore 3000 years of vibrant culture, religious practice and traditions.
Until the Jewish community stops viewing campuses as a wasteland of antisemitism, and Jewish students as naïve and helpless, and starts talking about the ground-breaking positive changes that Jewish students are making every day, the community cannot claim to understand campuses
Instead of telling young people what they cannot do, or the barriers they face, why not tell young people about the positive engagement they’ll have?
That’s not the 25 incidents of antisemitism. It’s the 244 Israel related activities on campus, it’s the 6000 students engaged at over 30 Holocaust Memorial Day Events, and it’s the 2,500 students running social action initiatives.
In my role as UJS President, I see the full scope of antisemitism on UK campuses. I see every incident, I hear every reported comment and I am often the target of anti-Jewish hatred myself. I am regularly exhausted by it, but for every incident of antisemitism there are 5 positive events going on, 10 students who need our help running social action events and 15 students trying to organise a Friday Night Dinner.
It is heartening to see so many friends and allies raising issues of antisemitism, standing with us and highlighting damaging rhetoric, but it is vital for the students on the ground that these issues addressed pragmatically and proportionately, not used for political point-scoring.
Until the Jewish community stops viewing campuses as a wasteland of antisemitism, and Jewish students as naive and helpless, and starts talking about the ground-breaking positive changes that Jewish students are making every day, the community cannot claim to understand campuses.
Antisemitism is exhausting and debilitating. But it does not consume the lives of Jewish students, and the headlines should not let it consume them either.