Antisemitism triples in UK schools over last five years

A London secondary school led the list with 29 incidents; politicians from both sides of the aisle express outrage.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Antisemitic acts have tripled in secondary schools in the UK over last five years, The Jewish Chronicle reported exclusively Thursday.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Henry Jackson Society think tank sent a questionnaire to over 3,000 schools, with the top question being how many incidents the institutions had recorded where the word “antisemitism” was used to describe students bullying or harassing their fellows.

From 2017-2022, the number was 1,030, with the totals rising from 60 in 2017 to 164 in only the first half of this year. While only 13 consisted of physical assaults, 76 episodes were considered so serious that the teachers reported them to the police.

An unnamed school in London led the list with 29 incidents, said the report, but cases were reported from educational institutions throughout the country.

Schools provided details of some cases. These included students using racist and threatening language, drawing swastikas on the class whiteboard, and hissing at Jewish classmates to simulate the gas chambers, sometimes immediately after having taken a Holocaust education class.

Since only some 40% of the schools responded, the estimation is that the number is far higher. The Jewish paper added that “community workers confirmed to the JC that the numbers reported represent just a small fraction of the totals.”

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In one incident that had not been included in the report, a mother told the paper that her daughter had been harassed for months in a public school, with teachers hearing and seeing the taunts and bullying but doing nothing. When the mother complained, the teachers denied that the abuse was antisemitic in nature, although it included swastikas and clearly anti-Jewish comments.

The girl eventually asked to go to a Jewish school on the other side of London in order to escape.

“She and other Jewish students are growing up facing a level of hostility that was never visible to me when I was that age,” said her mother. “Antisemitism then was an outlier. Now it’s becoming the norm. To be honest, it’s heartbreaking.”

Politicians from both sides of the aisle were dismayed by the findings.

“This is horrific,” Conservative MP Robert Halfon told The JC in response. “It’s hard to believe that in 2022, Jewish students are being subjected to antisemitism and abuse of this kind — and yet nothing seems to be being done about it.”

The chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education said he would raise the issue in parliament. In his opinion, “severe sanctions” should be laid on schools that “fail to deal with it.”

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Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, told the paper, “This survey has left me shocked and appalled, and the number of incidents is rising quickly.

“It’s crucial that the government acts fast to ensure that anti-racism policies are accompanied with clear guidance for teachers and school leaders on recognizing antisemitism at school — in the playground and the corridor, as well as in the classroom — and on dealing with it.”

The survey had shown that only 47 schools have any sort of formal policy on how to respond to antisemitism.

Among several recommendations, the report suggested that all schools be required to report such hate incidents in a “standardized approach,” which would also raise the administration’s awareness of the problem. It also urged all institutions to adopt the IHRA definition of Jew hatred, to make it easier to identify such occurrences.