How we educate universities on antisemitism — and why we need to


Union of Jewish Students running an antisemitism awareness training session for university and student leaders (Photo: UJS)

February 15, 2024 07:54

Last week, I went to Nottingham to deliver antisemitism awareness training to the Students’ Union. It was nothing too out of the ordinary. We deliver these trainings all the time.

After a while, they settle into a rhythm. Our training sessions always start with some housekeeping reminders before asking the university and Students’ Union staff members in the room to guess how many Jews there are in the world. They always guess too high. We then go on, discussing historical antisemitism, including tropes about blood and power. We go through each of the examples of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. We finally look at statistics and examples of antisemitism on campus, before wrapping up a couple of hours after we started.

Training like this is a core part of the work the Union of Jewish Students has been delivering for a number of years to support Jewish students on campus from ‘behind the scenes’.

Jewish students often ask for proactive responses to antisemitism, and this is how it's done. Indeed, we've trained over 2,000 people since the summer, having especially expanded our provision since October 7.

And so, it was a fairly standard day for me, delivering the training. Until towards the end of it. Through the window, the noise of campus wafted in. Normally you might expect it to be some pop music from the Domino’s stand handing out free pizza at a freshers’ fair, or just the general buzz of students on campus. This wasn’t it. The beats of the drum started, followed by a cry of “Victory to the intifada!” I quickly broke out of my rhythm. The protestors continued: “Yemen Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around!” Twenty people outside were making their slogans known to the whole campus, using a particularly loud megaphone.

While I was running an antisemitism-awareness training session inside, ‘Victory to the intifada!’ could be heard outside 

What followed was a bizarre juxtaposition. While I delivered antisemitism awareness training inside, speakers outside illustrated my points. While I spoke about antisemitic conspiracies about Jewish power, a speaker claimed that the “war machine” had “sunk its tendrils so deep” into society. This same “war machine” was fuelled by cash, he said, as I explained tropes about Jews and money. While I told attendees that the Holocaust must never be invoked, the protestors outside shouted that it was happening again in Gaza. They were spreading the very libels and tropes I was there to raise awareness of!

Of course, there’s only so much you can get through in a two-hour session on a form of hatred with thousands of years’ worth of history to it. We raise awareness of the oldest tropes and the newest hateful libels. It’s a lot to cover, especially when more often than not you start with a base of no knowledge. I am sure that many people reading this remember being at university and being the “first Jew” someone ever met. That experience still exists for so many of today’s Jewish students, and the UJS team who train campus staff and leaders.

So, while campus leaders and university staff won’t come out of our trainings as experts on antisemitism, they do have a foundation for understanding of what anti-Jewish racism looks like, and why chants on campus like “Victory to the intifada!” heard through the windows will instil fear in Jewish students, who just want to study and socialise like any other student has the right to.

We know these training sessions yield positive impacts for the support Jewish students receive. When antisemitic incidents or the intimidation of Jewish students occur on campuses, those who have received our training are equipped to understand what support processes need to take place: liaising with UJS for welfare support, investigating and ensuring that the right sanctions are imposed.

Since October 7, we’ve seen over three years’ worth of antisemitic incidents on campus. Indeed, in just the past week, students at Birmingham chanted for “Death to Zionists!” and UJS’ Hillel House in Leeds was defaced with antisemitic graffiti, almost identical to one of the examples used in our training sessions.

We have updated our training sessions to reflect this new reality, including educating on the way that antisemitism often masks itself in “legitimate criticism of Israel”. That battle will only grow in the coming months, and it is imperative that universities, their staff, and fellow students are equipped with the knowledge and awareness to counter that.

It’s often said that campus is a microcosm of wider society. If that’s the case, Jewish students need UJS’ and the Jewish community’s support more than ever. They also need those in positions of power on their campuses to stand up for them too. Our training is just one of the many parts in place to ensure Jewish students have that, and my experience in Nottingham illustrated this to me vividly.

Guy Dabby-Joory is UJS Head of Campaigns

February 15, 2024 07:54

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