In the past decades, universities across the globe have developed a real commitment to minority inclusion and rights on campus. An atmosphere where if someone tells you that you are being racist to a certain group, Islamophobic to a Muslim person, transphobic to a transgender person, homophobic to a member of the LGBTQ+ community and so on, you apologize for your actions and don’t repeat them. This is applicable to every single minority that I can think of, and rightly so. In order to have a functional and accepting society I believe this is very necessary and that people should be called out for these actions because there is no room for it and it’s just simply unacceptable.
And yet at institutions like the University of East Anglia, Jews seem to be consistently excluded from consideration. It is too often on campus that when a Jewish person tells someone that they are being antisemitic they have a comeback to deny this antisemitism and plead innocence. While antisemitism has been embedded in British history for almost a thousand years, the recent spike in these bigoted expressions are clearly due to the popular embrace of anti-Zionism.
Two years ago the Student Union put forward a motion to change the university’s antisemitism policy to replace the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance crafted definition (IHRA) with the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism’s definition (JDA). This was despite the fact that IHRA is the preferred definition amongst the majority of Jewish people and the world.
The core issue was whether it’s antisemitic to attempt to or call for the destruction of Israel, a liberal, democratic state that has always ensured full political and civil rights for all its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. It’s not hard to understand why most Jews would choose IHRA, which emphasizes the irrationality and danger of such expressions, especially those based on falsehoods about Israel’s nature and that completely disregard the safety of millions of Jews.
The opposing argument was itself based on a misinterpretation of IHRA, claiming that it stifles legitimate criticism of Israel. Yes, that’s right, the definition of antisemitism that Jewish people prefer is under attack because it declares that comparing Jews to Nazis and calls for another Jewish genocide is antisemitic. The JDA rejects this as long as its in reference to Palestinians. If the anti-Zionists at UEA were honest, they would have to acknowledge that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
In a clear attempt to underhandedly push the definition through – a definition that wouldn’t identify Hamas or its recent massacre of Jews as antisemitic – The SU informed the Jewish society a day before the motion, leaving no time for a defense. Even though the society prepared an impassioned response, they were silenced during the vote. This motion that affected only them ended up passing despite repeated protest.
A day after Hamas’s most recent mass murder of Jews but before the IDF entered Gaza, the same student group issued a statement condoling the massacre but labelling it as “ongoing violence”, made no reference or condemnation of Hamas, and implicitly equated Hamas to the IDF. They reiterated promises to support all students, implying that Palestinian students who support the terrorist groups atrocities deserve the same considerations as Jewish and Israeli students who might have friends or family among the over 1200 victims and hundreds of hostages. The message included an affirmation of their commitment to promoting open and respectful dialogue: “We believe that informed discussions help us to better understand complex issues… in these challenging times, let us stand together, support one another, and strive for understanding, empathy and acceptance.”
However a very different kind of message was published in December, well after the IDF penetrated the terror stronghold that Gaza has become. “The SU condemns the heinous actions of the state of Israel within Occupied Palestinian Territory.” They went on to state in no uncertain terms their solidarity with the Palestinian cause, accused Israel of Genocide, and supported the antisemitic BDS movement, all while paradoxically asserting a commitment to offering a supportive environment that upholds democratic values and diversity of thought.
It seems the group only laments the fact that Jews were kidnapped, raped, and murdered by Palestinians, but unequivocally condemns Israel’s attempt to protect its citizens from further harm. Their priorities are clear as day.
For their part, the university’s pro-Palestinian society has been organizing book clubs and movie nights pushing Palestinian anti-Israel propaganda and promoting social media accounts of actual terrorist supporters. UEA’s Islamic Society denied that Hamas’s crimes against Israeli infants ever took place and plastered a red FALSE stamp over reports of the atrocities. Even one of the history professors signed a document blaming Israel for the murderous Palestinian terrorism. This while the Jewish society only felt the need to publish one short statement condemning Hamas.
What baffles me as a Jewish student is that the Student Union has never considered the possibility that they might be engaging in antisemitism. Where is the caution on display when other forms of bigotry are called out? Why do only Jewish students need to defend the right to identify hate directed at us?
This is the consequence of embracing anti-Zionism. The deafening and violent student support of Hamas in response to the devastating attacks on October the 7th have shown that there is a direct link between justifying violence against Israelis and the bullying of Jewish students on campus.