Exams and jobs the key concerns

By Jonathan Boyd, October 6, 2011

It is difficult to avoid the impression that British universities are a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment to be approached with considerable caution. The issue has even caught the attention of Matthew Gould, Britain's ambassador to Israel, who has questioned the validity of the hypothesis, and noted that it is deterring Israeli students from studying here.

Our research provides, for the first time, the students' eye view on the issue. In addition to the study of Jewish students, JPR ran a parallel survey of students in general and learned that a majority of those at British universities actually have no feelings either way about Israel. They are neither pro nor anti; they are indifferent.

Of the remainder with an opinion, they are evenly split: half have negative feelings, and half have positive feelings. Only four per cent are "very negative". This supports Israeli ambassador to Britain Daniel Taub's assertion that the impression created by anti-Israel campaigns "is disproportionate to the size and the core of people that are involved".

It may also explain why relatively few Jewish students are worried about the issue: whereas 76 per cent are concerned about passing exams and 69 per cent about finding a job,
38 per cent are worried about anti-Israel sentiment at university. Furthermore, the vast majority are open about their Jewishness on campus.

So while we would be wrong to minimise the issue of anti-Israel sentiment, not least because Jewish students report that it is difficult to talk about Israel at university without inviting some degree of "grief", we should also put it into perspective.

The question of how anti-Israel hostility is reported and tackled is important. The community should be aware of the issues, and those tasked with combating it should be given the support they require to succeed.

However, it should not dominate our view, not least because over-emphasising it appears to be affecting the Jewish identities of this young generation.

They exhibit considerably higher levels of commitment to supporting Israel or combating antisemitism than they do to charitable giving, volunteering or supporting social justice causes, all positive Jewish values of which we, as a people, are rightly proud.

One wonders whether all the apprehension and negativity is causing us to lose sight of the most important questions: who are we, and what contribution should we be making, both to the Jewish and wider world?

Jonathan Boyd is executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research

Last updated: 2:15pm, October 6 2011