There have been 123 cases of antisemitism against UK uni students in the past two years
The cases this year have been higher than ever
Over the past two years, there have been 123 antisemitic incidents affecting Jewish students, academics and student bodies across 34 different unis in the UK, a new report by antisemitism charity CST has found.
65 cases, the total for 2019/2020, is the highest total CST has ever recorded in a single academic year, despite the year being cut short as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The reported incidents include those perpetrated by fellow students, academics, SUs and student society officers. A significant 15 of the 123 university antisemitic incidents in this report were perpetrated by staff, including four at the University of Warwick, two at the University of Leeds and two at the University of Nottingham.
Last year, an associate professor at the University of Warwick was accused of spreading “antisemitic conspiracies” in a lecture. A Jewish student present reported how they were “shaking with rage” because they felt powerless to say anything.
Following a report and official complaint of the incident, the president of Warwick Jewish Israeli Society told The Tab that its members felt “sad that the university has chosen to side with antisemites and not Jewish students”.
Additionally in the past year, the University of Nottingham invited Chris Williamson to give a talk to its students, despite at the time being suspended from the Labour Party due to allegations of antisemitism. The university defended its decision to invite Williamson, despite causing uproar within the university community and making Jewish students feel “extremely uncomfortable”.
The locations where CST recorded five or more university antisemitic incidents in the past two academic years are Coventry (14 incidents, 13 of which took place at the University of Warwick), Birmingham (13), Leeds (11), Nottingham (nine), Bristol (seven) and Leicester (five).
With the exception of Coventry and Leicester, these cities represent the locations with the largest Jewish student populations. Jewish population size thus does not deter antisemitic incidents, but rather attracts it. For example, a Jewish student at the University of Nottingham was verbally assaulted by another student in a popular uni nightclub after she allegedly shouted “no offence but fuck Israel and all of you Jew people.”
Given the fact that these stats focus only on the “reported”, Yoni Brooks*, a third year student at the University of Birmingham, anticipates the actual number of antisemitic incidents to be higher. He told The Tab: “Fortunately, I’ve never experienced any antisemitism directed at me, but I would be surprised if this number reflects the true amount of antisemitism over the past two years.”
CST recorded four instances of assault, one each in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester.
Last December, Jeremy Corbyn, then leader of the Labour Party, visited the University of Bristol as part of his general election campaign. Jewish students on campus attended the event to protest about antisemitism within Labour. A Jewish student present told The Tab they were called “a filthy zio” and “a puppet of the Zionist lobby”. Students also reported that they were physically attacked, with people forcibly trying to take their placards from them.
Antisemitic incidents of all kind hit their highest ever level in 2019, with the CST report recording 1,805 incidents across the country in 2019. Social media was blamed as being the single biggest contributor to this rise. The report also noted a rise in incidents when Labour’s antisemitism crisis was in the news.
In one instance in 2018, highlighted by the CST, a series of antisemitic comments were made in a WhatsApp group chat for incoming students at the University of Essex. The group chat had around 80 members and it featured antisemitic comments, including “German WW2 cookbooks be like turn the oven to gas mark Jew”, “sprinkle a little Jew on top of ur chicken to get that extra crispy flavour”.
While these cases highlight only a few of the high-profile antisemitic incidents carried out over the past couple of years, the Union of Jewish Students warned the true level of antisemitism on campus may be even higher, with persistent under-reporting meaning only one in five incidents of hate crime are recorded.
A UJS spokesperson said: “Amidst rising antisemitism on campus over the last two academic years, it is evident that certain universities have woefully disregarded their duty of care to Jewish students. Whilst many institutions have equality and anti-racism frameworks, these have proven to be completely inadequate when protecting Jewish students. When antisemitism does arise, Jewish students rightly expect that it will be taken seriously and dealt with effectively.”
Hope is not lost, however, and the work of the CST and UJS prove that. Bradley Langer, Campaigns Organiser of the UJS said that “this will not stop Jewish students, it only emboldens them.
“Jewish students do not hide from these challenges but face them head on. In the past two years, Jewish students have held universities and vice-chancellors to account ensuring that they do not sweep antisemitism under the carpet; led campaigns for the adoption of the IHRA definition; held protests outside trustee meetings; won debates inside student unions; organised petitions and made sure they will never be silenced.
“Together (with the CST), we will never rest until antisemitism is eradicated from our society, until all universities are protecting and supporting their Jewish students and that their basic needs, like the supply of kosher food on campus, are being met. The Jewish students and societies I have worked with, across the country, show me that the future is bright. Jewish students will continue to thrive, will continue to succeed, and will always ensure that come Friday night, they can gather together as one community sharing stories over a bowl of chicken soup (or a veggie alternative!).”
Names with (*) have been changed to preserve anonymity.