In 1986, Elie Wiesel, the late activist and writer, received the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out against injustice and defending human rights. In his acceptance speech he said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”
This quote is relevant now more than any time in the last 75 years, since the Holocaust. On October 7th, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, with the intention of indiscriminately mutilating, pillaging, burning, raping, torturing and executing as many Jews as possible. More Jews were murdered on October 7th, 2023, than on any other single day since the Holocaust.
On consequence of the war sparked by that pogrom has been an exponential resurgence of antisemitism affecting all diaspora communities. In the UK, antisemitic hate crime has risen by 1,350%. A Jewish woman in Lyon was stabbed in the stomach and a swastika was painted on her door, Stars of David have been painted on Jewish homes in Paris. In Holland Jews have been advised to remove mezuzot from their doors. The Anti-Defamation League is reporting a 388% increase in antisemitism in America. An airport in Dagestan was stormed by a bloodthirsty mob looking for Jews to beat to death.
That antisemitism in wider society is also translating into an extremely concerning and hostile environment for young Jews on university campuses in the UK. At my university, the University of Cambridge, Jewish students and staff alike have been subjected to a torrent of abuse. Our Student Union’s welfare officer liked a Tweet that said that October 7 was “a cause for celebration”. He then half-heartedly apologised, disingenuously claiming that he thought that the Hamas terrorists who perpetrated these attacks, which were some of the most unimaginably cruel and unjust acts, were simply “Palestinians escaping Gaza”. Since then, in a recently issued statement by him, he had no qualms about condemning Israel, but clearly has his reservations about doing the same for Hamas.
But the rampant antisemitism at Cambridge, and at universities in the UK, unfortunately isn’t limited to one student union welfare officer. Amongst the signs on King’s Parade (Cambridge’s high street) one was spotted which read “GAZA – WARSAW GHETTO PART II”, a horrific minimisation of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the entire Holocaust. On Saturday afternoons you’ll be greeted with the bone-chilling chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. As we know, this chant is a call for the destruction of the state of Israel, which exists between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and the inevitable genocide of all of its Jewish inhabitants. That it reverberates unchecked through the streets of this university town creates an atmosphere of fear for the many Jews and Israelis who are part of this community.
Then there’s the Student Union motion that led to a call, from the motion’s proposer, for a “mass uprising” in Israel – in effect a call for another pogrom. When the student who suggested it was questioned what they meant, their concerning, to say the least, explanation was for something akin to the “First Intifada”. There’s the Cambridge academic who is reported to have co-written a booklet which included a pro-Hamas article and much, much more. That list doesn’t even include the academics who have reportedly aided Hamas and Hezbollah’s terrorism by reportedly helping Iran develop its ‘Suicide Drones’.
More generally, staff that are members of both the Oxford and UCL branches of the UCU (Universities and Colleges Union) have proposed motions in recent weeks that call for “intifada until victory”. Socialist Appeal, an organisation that claims to have a presence at over 50 UK universities and whose members are banned from the Labour Party, have been calling for an intifada from “London to Gaza”. These are just to name but a few examples of the horrific intimidation that Jews at British universities have had to put up with.
This wave of antisemitism certainly didn’t begin with the war, but it has absolutely ballooned.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Antisemitism is far too normalised; antisemites are far too comfortable with bullying Jews and facing no repercussions. We Jews must stand up and defend ourselves against this flood of anti-Jewish sentiment.
At Cambridge right now there is a petition signed by Jews and non-Jews alike calling for a vote of no confidence against the genocide and Hamas-supporting Student Union Welfare Officer, I mentioned earlier. We have so far garnered just over 100 signatures. We need 600 Cambridge students to sign it to make the vote happen.
Calling out antisemites for their bigotry must become commonplace if we are ever to even dream of eradicating antisemitism. To quote Elie Wiesel again, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” The wicked thrive on the silence of those they are trying to trample on. If we use our voices to call out those that try to cause us harm, they won’t be able to hurt us. I hope more Jews in Cambridge will join with me and others, find their voices, and stand up for all our sakes.