Antisemitic incidents in higher education triple amid Gaza crisis

Anti-Jewish hate reaches record high as vast majority of cases recorded by Community Security Trust come after 7 October

February 15, 2024

The number of antisemitic incidents recorded in UK higher education tripled last year as the war in Gaza fuelled anti-Jewish hate on campuses, according to a new report.

The Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism across the UK, received 182 reports of incidents affecting Jewish students or academics during 2023, the highest total ever recorded, up from 60 the previous year.

Of these, 148 (81 per cent) occurred in the aftermath of Hamas’ 7 October attacks on Israel, and Israel’s far deadlier – and ongoing – retaliation in the Gaza Strip. Some 134 (74 per cent) of the incidents recorded in higher education made explicit reference to Israel and the Middle East in addition to antisemitic language or targeting.

The CST’s report says that it classified five of the 182 university-related incidents as assault; 13 as damage and desecration; 15 as threats; 146 as abusive behaviour; and three as antisemitic literature – including one complaint about Holocaust-related content on a university reading list.

Seventy-two antisemitic incidents were recorded on university campuses, a significant leap from 2022’s total of 28, and 110 occurred away from campus, 77 of which were online.

The CST says the spike in reports is “consistent” with a previous upswing in antisemitism in higher education recorded in 2021, which coincided with another bout of violence between Israel and Hamas.

“One potential explanation for this increase is the role these institutions play as spaces for young people to gather as part of a community and share a sense of belonging. It is possible that this craving for being part of a group is fulfilled by subscription to a cause, and partly galvanises such incidents,” the report says.

“It may also be due to the close proximity of young Jews to people with antisemitic views on a daily basis, which is less common in other parts of society. However, the complexity of this geopolitical conflict, the relationship between words, actions and potential violence, and the conflations of Israel with Jews, are not always fully understood by some young people who are influenced by simplistic and antagonistic online content.”

Ministers in the Westminster government have expressed concern about antisemitism against Jewish students since the immediate aftermath of the 7 October attacks, with higher education minister Robert Halfon more recently revealing that he had started calling vice-chancellors directly when he received reports of Jewish students feeling intimidated or threatened.

Speaking at Times Higher Education’s THE Campus Live event in December, Mr Halfon said that he had been “horrified” to hear about incidents that he said included “threatening door-knocking, verbal and physical abuse, graffiti [and] flags draped over Jewish students’ cars”.

However, some academics have warned of a “chilling effect” on scholarly debate about the Middle East, describing an “atmosphere of fear” fostered by cancellations, threats and government rhetoric.

Separately, an employment tribunal ruled earlier this month that the University of Bristol had unfairly dismissed David Miller, a professor of sociology who was sacked in 2021 after being accused by students of using “antisemitic language, tropes and conspiracy theories”. A judge ruled that Professor Miller’s anti-Zionist views were a protected belief.

The CST report says that it did not define all anti-Israel speech and actions as antisemitic, but adds that “it cannot be ignored that contemporary antisemitism can occur in the context of, or be accompanied by, extreme feelings over the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that hostility towards Israel may be expressed via, or motivated by, antisemitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories”.

Commenting on the CST report, home secretary James Cleverly described the rise in antisemitism in the UK in recent months as “utterly deplorable”.

Lord Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, said that the figures should be “a reminder to British civil society of the serious nature of antisemitism and the impact that it has on the Jewish community”.

“As we have seen over the years, when tensions rise in the Middle East there is an increase in antisemitism around the world, however this scale is unprecedented,” Lord Mann said.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles