‘I’ve never felt safe’: Jewish students on rising antisemitism on campus
Antisemitic incidents are at a record high
Antisemitic incidents across UK universities have reached a record high, with 111 cases reported this academic year alone. Out of these, Warwick and Bristol topped the list with the highest amount of antisemitic incidents reported, followed by UCL, Oxford and Birmingham.
Jewish university students up and down the country are feeling the brunt of this: ostracised, excluded and made to feel extremely uncomfortable, purely because of their religion.
In the past year alone there have been a variety of high-profile antisemitic incidents reported, such as a student at UCL who was sent a death threat along with a picture of herself photoshopped under a guillotine and another at Royal Holloway University which saw an Israel flag with a swastika in the centre stuck onto a uni building.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The Tab spoke to Jewish students from across the UK who fear for their safety on campus every day. They tell us how the abuse from other students has become so regular, they’ve come to expect it as part of their daily life.
‘There are too many incidents to count – it’s become a part of my daily life’
Lily, a third year student at the University of Durham told The Tab how she was forced to reconsider coming to Durham before she’d even started uni – when her freshers group chat photo was of a character called “Hitler Fish” that people in the chat had designed. “They made light of the Holocaust and constantly joked about worshipping this Hitler Fish”, she said.
Another incident, Lily said, happened not too long after she started uni – a few weeks into her first year. She told The Tab: “I was in an International Relations seminar and we were discussing the Middle East in a debate about resources and oil. Israel was brought up in conversation and my group moved the argument away from the topic of the seminar to how they thought Israel should not exist.
“When the people in my class found out I was Jewish they started targeting me. It wasn’t a debate, it was a bashing. I’ve also had numerous times when strangers have found out I’m Jewish and started forcing a conversation about Israel. I am Jewish – not Israeli – so why is this conversation being forced?”
There was a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents following the Israel-Gaza conflict earlier this year. Lily told The Tab that a lot of antisemitic abuse she’s received was off the back of this: “I’ve had people shout at me and say they hate me for believing Israel has a right to exist. They’ve done this in clubs, seminars, at parties, in the pub- everywhere. It just makes me feel so uncomfortable.”
Now, Lily said she will avoid wearing any jewellery or clothing that identifies her as Jewish. “I want to be able to show I’m proud of being Jewish, but that clearly isn’t possible on campus”, she said.
‘It’s exhausting just being Jewish on campus’
Emilie Eisenberg, a second-year student at Warwick University – where the most antisemitic incidents have been reported – said she is particularly concerned about violence.
She told The Tab: “Jewish people are definitely more vulnerable on campus. It causes me a lot of anxiety and I’ve even been offered self-defence classes from CST because of it.” CST is a charity dedicated to fighting antisemitism.
Whilst at uni, Emilie said she has been forced to deal with a lot of antisemitism, ranging from offhand jokes about Jewish stereotypes and the Holocaust, to being outcast by some of her closest friends.
“It had huge consequences on me”, she said, “I’ve been so upset that I’ve just had to leave uni and go home.
“Jewish people are unfairly targeted all the time and it is exhausting just presenting as jewish on campus.”
‘I kept telling my friends their jokes were completely inappropriate, but they just didn’t listen’
Antisemitic incidents are not always specifically targeted with the intention of abuse or harassment. Many times, it can come in the form of a joke amongst friends.
Alice, a third year student at the University of Leeds told the Tab how many of her encounters with antisemitism have been from her friends in the form of “banter”.
“I once had my friend burp in my face before she apologised and said ‘sorry, I’m just trying to gas you like Hitler gassed the Jews'”, she said. “Another time I told someone I was Jewish and they told me there was ‘no way’ I could be Jewish, because ‘I had a nice nose'”.
Alice said her friends also had a group chat named “Mein Kampf” (after Hitler’s book), where they sent pictures of her asking ‘is she still scared of showers?’ Alice said: “They made me feel awful and although I kept saying the jokes were completely inappropriate, they just didn’t listen.”
‘The abuse I faced at uni has led to my decision to move to Israel’
UCL student Helen told the Tab she regrets her decision to go to UCL and says she only chose it over other universities in London because of their commitment to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which is so important to her.
“I have never felt safe on campus. I have nearly completed my education and I’ve hated it”, she said. “I am concerned for every Jewish student attending university outside of Israel, because antisemitism has become the norm.
“At least two out of three Jewish students in my class had experienced antisemitism numerous times. After facing an attack, there was no immediate support or place to go when we felt most vulnerable. Universities need to do better to support their Jewish students.”
‘I am alone on campus, but not outside it’
Chloe Santaub, who studies at the University of London Institute in Paris (affiliated with Queen Mary University of London) has recently spoken out about antisemitism at universities.
On Monday 8th November in Krakow, Poland, Chloe addressed European vice-presidents, ministers, state secretaries, members of parliament and Jewish leaders about the hostile anti-Jewish environment on campus.
Chloe told the Tab: “The antisemitism I have experienced has been primarily through my course’s academic materials. For over 12 months my institution has been flirting with the idea of action against anti-Jewish course material or staff with anti-Jewish beliefs, but have done nothing. The lawyers have told them how to combat antisemitism on campus but they have been ignored.”
“A number of students have been abusive towards me, and lecturers have ridiculed me or dismissed my concerns about anti-Jewish racism. It is exhausting.
“I have had enough with universities constantly hiding behind a thin veneer of academic freedom to spread propaganda, putting Jewish identity and antisemitism up for debate, and attempting to silence its Jews. Jews, like everybody else, deserve to study in a respectful, tolerant, open academic environment.”