Robert Festenstein

British universities – Unsafe spaces

For almost 50 years, ever since the United Nations voted on Zionism being a form of racism and racial discrimination, universities around the world have, to a greater or lesser extent, been source of antisemitism dressed up as opposition to the existence of a Jewish state.

The Jew-haters talk about Zionists in pejorative terms and use that word in the same way their predecessors did with the word “Jew” in the first half of the 20th century and over many centuries before.  They tell lies about Israel and Zionism, the most significant being the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. The campaign “Israel Apartheid Week” in the UK every March is the practical result of these lies; in campuses up and down the country, Jewish students suffer intimidation that occurs, in the form of exhibitions, posters and rallies.

The reports of Jewish students not attending university that week, or just keeping a very low profile are easy to find. The university authorities claim they can do nothing to stand in the way of free speech. The reality is that they don’t want to, and the free speech defense is just a lie. At the beginning of this month, in an attempted mirror of student sit-ins in the USA, a number of pro-Palestinian students occupied part of Goldsmiths College, part of the University of London. Their demands were depressingly familiar: “divestment, more scholarships for Palestinian students, revoking the IHRA definition of antisemitism and scrapping the protest guidelines and use of bodycams at student protests.”

What was just as depressing is that the university rolled over and said yes to many of these and crucially agreed to review their adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – IHRA – definition of antisemitism and it’s commitment to it. This definition has been accepted almost universally across the UK where a definition is needed.  It has not been an easy task and now, in the space of a few days, those who run Goldsmiths College have, to use a colloquial expression, thrown the Jews under the bus.

The reason for this particular demand is obvious. One of the strands of the IHRA definition is excessive criticism of Israel and it is that part which the pro-Palestinians want removed. They want their hatred of the Jewish state to be unlimited, and Goldsmiths cheerfully appear to have played right into their hands.

What next, or rather which universities are next? It takes a certain type of courage to stand up to this mob rule and even if they wanted to do so, the record of universities up and down the UK when it comes to protecting the Jewish minority gives no comfort at all that they will stand firm against this conduct. The prize for the pro-Palestinian organizers is to create an environment where criticism of Islamist terrorism is to be considered Islamophobic and therefore banned. With the walking back from the IHRA definition and continued antisemitism under a wafer-thin disguise of anti-Zionism, the marginalization of the Jewish community in general and students in particular will be complete.

Too far-fetched? Just look at the media bias of reporting of the war in Gaza and the writing on the wall is clear for all to see.

About the Author
Robert Festenstein is a solicitor based in Manchester with considerable experience in Court actions. He is active in fighting the increase in anti-Semitism in the UK and is President of the Zionist Central Council, an organisation devoted to promoting and defending the democratic State of Israel.