It will take courage to stop UK campuses from turning into their US counterparts

I have hope that the scenes we’ve seen at Columbia and UCLA won’t be repeated here


UCLA campus security outside the illegal Gaza encampment in Los Angeles (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

May 02, 2024 12:49

This has been a year like no other. A year with no respite, no cessation of hostilities, a year when the very fabric of what it means to be a Jewish student has been tested, and yet still, as Jewish students muster the resilience to begin sitting their end of year exams, campuses take another step forward in increased toxicity towards Jewish students.

This last week, students on campuses across the UK have sought to import many of the most nefarious aspects of the encampment protest movement from the USA. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly have not yet witnessed scenes like those at UCLA or Columbia on campuses in the UK, but as I write this article, encampments are growing and the rhetoric emanating from these encampments is increasing in hostility. Student protestors in the UK have already called to "globalise the Intifada", to support the Houthis in Yemen, and to not "engage with Zionists" in the past few days. But unlike American campuses, these scenes of encampments, this hatred, and this toxic campus culture is not new. We have been here before.

Only last term, we saw student occupations in Leeds, Bristol, Goldsmiths, Edinburgh, Manchester, and UCL, most of which went unreported. Jewish students have been through worse this year than a handful of activists sleeping on the floor of their library last term. And for those reading this who were at university in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s, I’m sure many of you remember times when university buildings were occupied, Jewish societies were banned, and Hizb ut-Tahrir was supported on campus. Through these experiences, the British Jewish student community has developed its resilience. And this resilience has been utilised to run campaigns for the betterment of Jewish students. Only a couple of years ago did UJS finish its ‘IHRA adoption’ campaign, with nearly every university in England now having fully adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Yet fundamentally, the key differentiation between British and American campuses is that in the UK, we have elected Jewish student representatives on every campus where there are Jewish students: JSocs, with a democratic and cross-communal voice for Jewish students: UJS. It is this legitimacy afforded to Jewish student representatives on campus that provides a figment of hope that UK campuses won’t descend into the chaos seen in America. Because in the UK, it is Jewish student voices that have been centred by UJS in conversations about campus, so the lived experience of Jewish students is recognised, listened to, and often acted upon by university administrations. And with UJS’ support, it is these same Jewish student representatives who can hold universities to account for their promises to make campuses inclusive to their Jewish students.

But time and again, since October 7th, universities have been unwilling to effectively stand in allyship with their Jewish students and ensure they can be fully included in campus life. Now is a bellwether moment for university administrations as to whether they will muster the moral courage to stand in allyship with Jewish students, and ensure campuses are places where they can study free from hatred.

You may wonder how a few tents can create a hostile environment on campus for Jewish students. But it is what these encampments are trying to emulate which is most disturbing. One must only look to the violent scenes at Columbia and UCLA, the brazen support for Hamas, and the all-to-often infiltration of these protests by non-student activists. It is because of this, that these tents, where protesters have already called to "globalise the Intifada", to support the Houthis in Yemen, and to not "engage with Zionists" in the past few days, create a hostile environment, and cause serious concern for our Jewish students. Administrations must recognise this and act. Universities have willing partners in Jewish student leaders to improve the situation on campus, but they must gain their trust through their actions first. The moral imperative is theirs.

May 02, 2024 12:49

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