Many in UK academic community forced to hide Jewish identity: report

At least one campus group for Jewish students is phasing out any programming related to Israel altogether because it sets off a viscerally negative response from their anti-Zionist peers.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a new report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.

“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”

The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom. Last November, over 100 scholars from across the world said in an open letter that it has, arguing that pro-Zionist activists “hijacked” the definition to censor criticism of Israel.

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“The [IHRA] definition of antisemitism has neither compromised nor chilled free speech in any of the 56 universities with which we engaged,” the report said. “The IHRA definition should be used as a reference point to understand what contemporary antisemitism is. It should also be used as a reference point for Jewish students and staff (and indeed non-Jewish complainants where relevant) to support them when dealing with issues or submitting complaints.”

Jewish students’ feeling that they have been victimized by their peers arises from the treatment they receive because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the report explains. The report describes an interview with a Jewish student who experienced a torrent of verbal abuse for four hours, as well as incessant phone calls, after being outed as a Zionist in a WhatsApp group chat. Such behavior influenced Jewish students’ choices on which courses to take, with one Newcastle University student reporting that registering for a class on the Middle East was ruled out for fear of being held “responsible for defending Israel when discussing the conflict.”

According to the report, at least one campus group for Jewish students, the Exeter Jewish Society of University of Exeter, is phasing out any programming related to Israel altogether because it sets off a viscerally negative response from their anti-Zionist peers.

“That any society should have to factor such a concern into the decision making is troubling,” the report continued. It also noted that Jewish students and staff avoid being on campus during so-called “Israel Apartheid Week” because of “aggressive” behavior “such as imitation checkpoints and protests using antisemitic imagery,” a problem that is also widespread in the US, according to a new report issued by Combat Antisemitism Movement, an antisemitism watchdog that has called for a ban on the practice.

The Parliamentary Task Force recommended that universities institute antisemitism training, reporting systems for collecting and responding to complaints of antisemitism, rules on appropriate social media conduct, and “inclusive” calendars informing professors and staff of important Jewish holidays and sabbath observance, as well as “reasonable adjustments” for students and staff keeping kosher.

The National Union of Students (NUS), a private charity representing over seven million university students in the UK, was previously scrutinized for inciting antisemitism in higher education, a longstanding behavior for which the group apologized in March.

‘Considerable alienation of Jewish students’

In January, an independent report commissioned by NUS said that a fixation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the organization had caused “considerable alienation of Jewish students” as well as other forms of antisemitism that its leaders never properly addressed. It additionally cited dozens of examples of antisemitic incidents alleged by Jewish students — incitement of violence against Israeli civilians, the spreading of conspiracy theories about Mossad’s rumored role in the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), and opposition to a motion proposing observance of Holocaust Memorial Day — many of which occurred at NUS conferences.

In November NUS terminated the presidency of Shaima Dallali after finding her guilty of antisemitism and other misconduct. In announcing the removal, the first in the organization’s 100 year history, NUS apologized for “the harm that has been caused” and pledged to “rebuild the NUS in an inclusive way — fighting for all students as we have done for the past 100 years.”

Dallali’s tenure at NUS brimmed with controversy ever since Jewish student rights groups discovered tweets in which she called Hamas critics “Dirty Zionists” and quoted the battle cry, “Khaybar, Khaybar o Jews, the army of Muhammad will return,” a reference to the Battle of Khaybar in 628 that resulted in a massacre of Jews. She had also praised the extremist Islamic preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who supports Palestinian suicide bombers and is banned from visiting four western countries and regarded as a terrorist by several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.

At one point, antisemitic conduct within NUS became so common and egregious that the UK government dissociated with it and suspended its funding.