Jewish students let down at my university over antisemitism

Denys Lasdun's Ziggurats accommodation at UEA (Wikipedia/ (CC BY-SA 3.0))
Denys Lasdun's Ziggurats accommodation at UEA (Wikipedia/ (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Antisemitism in universities is something that Jewish students are warned about, but aside from some fleeting drunken moments, this was not something I experienced until the Israel-Hamas conflict in May.

As a result of the conflict, antisemitic incidents in the UK rose by 500%, according to the Community Security Trust (CST). This isn’t a shock to most British Jews, as this has been going on for decades. As Dave Rich, the CST director of policy puts it, “It is a depressingly familiar pattern that antisemitism rises whenever Israel is at war, but this does not make it any less disgraceful that British Jews are being threatened, harassed and abused. The level of anger and hate that is directed at Israel always spills over into antisemitism at times like this and yet the people stoking this anger, online and on the streets, never take responsibility for this particular consequence.”

At my university, the University of East Anglia, antisemitic slurs mixing the words Israelis and Jews and comparing Israelis to Nazis were shouted in pro-Palestine protests in May on and off campus.

A Norwich synagogue was defaced with swastikas and the words ‘Free Palestine.’ Individual Jewish students were targeted for somehow being responsible for actions of the Israeli government.

Yet, instead of addressing this antisemitism that was terrifying Jewish students, the student union deemed it appropriate to call an ‘urgent meeting’ to change UEA’s definition of antisemitism to the Jerusalem Declaration (JDA), the one less protective of Jews.

This meeting was emailed to all society presidents, rather than the Jewish society, somehow suggesting that a minority group should not have the right to define its own oppression.

The calls to change UEA’s definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance definition (IHRA) to the JDA, was also called for by other non-Jewish groups such as Labour Society, Pride Society, ‘Decolonize UEA’, Politics Society and Palestinian-solidarity Society.

Despite the IHRA being the foremost accepted definition of antisemitism both nationally and internationally, the pretty Instagram infographic calling for the JDA was continually shared by many throughout the summer.

The JDA was formulated by academics following the release of the IHRA, but has not had the same level of consultation with the Jewish community. Certain Jewish academics agree that the JDA definition can be used as an add-on to the IHRA, providing examples of what may, on the face of it, be antisemitic or not.  However, the IHRA should remain the main definition of antisemitism as it specifies the importance of context in understanding what is and isn’t antisemitic.

This is especially important in recent years, with the rising conflation of anti-Israel and antisemitic attitudes.

More recently, a motion was put forward by students not part of the Jewish Society at UEA to change UEA(su)’s definition of antisemitism from the IHRA to the JDA.

Once again, the Jewish Society was blindsided by this motion, whose proposers did not see it fit to consult UEA’s Jewish community before pressing ahead with its passage. The Jewish representative at the meeting was not allowed to speak or vote.

What is interesting, is that in the era where online activism for minority groups has never been stronger, support for Jews remains silent. While the Black Lives Matter movement took over the internet, and remains a prominent issue shared by all demographics today, posts about antisemitism do not tend to circulate the mainstream media.

Instead, ‘Hitler was right’ will be trending on Twitter, with variations of this phrase being posted more than 17,000 times in one week in May, according to the Anti-Defamation League. While we may stand against some forms of hatred, history’s oldest hatred, Jew-hatred, remains strong.

The Center for Countering Digital Hatred (CCDH) did an investigation into antisemitic content posted on social media between May and June this year. They found that even when such content was reported by users, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok failed to remove this content 84% of the time.

In one particular case, a Facebook viral post of a Holocaust-denying article was merely flagged by Facebook as ‘false information’, yet not removed. This widespread antisemitism is fueling a new generation of hate.

Instagram saw an abundance of posts condensing the Israel-Palestine conflict down to a few bullet points, totally undermining history. Something so complex cannot simply be stamped onto a pretty background with an eye catching font.

Yet it is, and these oversimplified, often incorrect infographics are repeatedly, mindlessly shared, with no thought to check reputable news and history sources first.

Then again, instances such as the exemption of the freedom of information act provided for the Balen report (an investigation into the anti-Israel bias of the BBC) suggests that even the most trusted of news sources can be dangerously biased. Yet, the rather ironic conspiracy remains that Jews control the media.

Despite changing attitudes around racism, to quote David Baddiel, “Jews don’t count.”

About the Author
Jasmine is a 21 year old university student studying psychology.
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