Israel-Gaza violence ‘fuelled rise in UK campus antisemitism’

Increase in tensions in Middle East led to highest ever number of incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust

January 19, 2023
Source: iStock

Antisemitic incidents reported at UK universities spiked as tensions escalated in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, new research has shown.

The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitors antisemitism, recorded 95-university-related incidents in the academic year 2020-21 – the highest ever figure – 55 of which took place in the single month of May 2021.

This was a period when tensions flared in the Gaza Strip and protests and rocket attacks left at least 256 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel dead, with many more injured.

The CST said anti-Jewish hate crime increased nationally in the UK during this time, with universities disproportionately affected; 9 per cent of all antisemitic incidents recorded during May 2021 were university-related, compared to 2 per cent during normal periods.

Overall, figures released by the CST as part of its report – Campus Antisemitism in Britain 2020-2022 – show that there were 150 antisemitic hate incidents at UK universities in 2020-21 and 2021-22 combined. This was a 22 per cent increase on the 123 incidents recorded in the previous two academic years of 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.

The CST said the increase was partly because of its sustained campaign to encourage students to report such incidents, but also showed the “impact that reactions to conflict overseas can have on levels of antisemitism affecting British campuses”.

Chief executive Mark Gardner said the issue “has been a running sore for decades and these new findings show that far too many Jewish students suffer hatred and bias”.

The findings come after a damning report on antisemitism within the National Union of Students, which found that the country’s largest student representative body has not been a welcoming place for Jewish people for “at least a decade”.

Joel Rosen, the president of the Union of Jewish Students, said antisemitism was now “leading some to hide their identity and disengage from parts of university life”.

Incidents was recorded across 30 different towns and cities – with London, Bristol and Birmingham the most affected – and include three instances of assault, seven threats made to Jewish students and 140 incidents of abusive behaviour such as verbal or online abuse.

Five of the incidents were perpetrated by staff at a university and three concerned antisemitic comments made by lecturers or tutors.

The CST found that the responses to some complaints made by students about antisemitism were “inconsistent” and “in the worst cases, increased the harm felt by Jewish students” because of slow response times or an absence of communication.

It recommended that universities take steps to communicate the reasons behind any delays and recognise that reporting a hate crime can be an “overwhelming and intimidating experience” and students often need more support to go through the process. While many institutions have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, this needs to come with better training for staff about what it means in practice, the report concludes.

Reacting to the report’s publication, the Westminster government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, Lord Mann, called the rise in incidents “both worrying and unacceptable”.

A task force recently set up by Lord Mann and the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism will examine the Jewish experience at higher education institutions and provide recommendations about what measures could be implemented, he explained.

“All Jewish students have a right to be themselves on campus without any negative impact on their university experience,” Lord Mann said.

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