With campus protests, lecturers – not students – are the real problem

Don’t say we weren’t warned if we see the level of unrest in American colleges coming here


Activists from London Student Action for Palestine in March Credit: Ron Fassbender/Alamy Live News

May 08, 2024 10:56

Of course, it is fun to be a student and play act at being a revolutionary. At Manchester University’s campus “occupation” there are drumming workshops and lessons in Arabic chanting, community meals of lentils and even a mock “Shabbat”, along with a session on the key question, “Why are we here?”.

Amid the newly bought tents getting hammered by the rain and the Amazon-bought keffiyehs is a chilling flag – more chilling even than chants of “From the River to the Sea”. It is one belonging not to the young revolutionaries but their teachers. “University of Manchester UCU for Palestine” it proclaims.

For the last two weeks I’ve been talking to Jewish students about their experiences as a new contagion of “occupations” spreads from across the Atlantic. They have been bullied off campus, they’ve lost friends simply for being Jewish, endured whispering campaigns and ridicule, been told they are not allowed in certain “apartheid-free” zones (oh, the irony!). Even the toilets are littered with swastikas.

It has exposed a bullying culture among young adults who claim to be the most anti-racist “woke” generation. But most worrying of all, it has also shown that this Jew-hatred disguised as Israel-hatred is being taught at our universities. Students told me of Israel demonisation being inserted in lectures as diverse as dentistry and drama, history and sport. They told how they have sent pages of complaints only to be told they shouldn’t complain about “free speech” and that hearing difficult things was part of a university education.

Jewish students I spoke to feel safest hiding their identities and even their opinions: to be Jewish means you will be asked if you stand with Israel and, if you do anything other than damn it, you will be painted as someone who loves genocide.

As antisemitism expert Dr David Hirsh tells me: “The genocide allegation posits Jews as the new Nazis and the Nazis were the worst people in the world; this new antisemitism not only allows people to hate the overwhelming majority of Jews but says they are right to do it.”

This week Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan will meet university heads. “There is absolutely no place for antisemitism in our society. Jewish students must feel safe on campus,” says Keegan. But it is unlikely a few anodyne words and a meeting at No 10 will undo the rot at our universities.

University is where many British Jews first encounter antisemitism. When I was Leeds in the 1990s, there were moves to ban the Jewish Society because “Zionism is racism”. That antisemitic anti-Zionism has since become ever more problematic, with the far-left joining hands with Islamic fundamentalism in demonising Israel as the worst and most evil country in the world. It is telling that extremist groups such as Cage have been part of some of the university campaigns. The government needs to take this threat seriously.

Even before October 7 campus antisemitism had acquired a new layer – identity politics – in which hating Jews became somehow woke. The academic-formed idea of Critical Race Theory has become the social-justice movement du jour. In this new way of looking at the world, Jews are white – and not just any white. Somehow, they are super white. The Israel/Palestine conflict is inserted into this victim/oppressor dichotomy, which is why there were celebrations on October 7 and denials of the murders and the rapes.

That British academics were happy to publicly celebrate the massacre of October 7 tells us how problematic our universities are. For example, a senior lecturer at Birkbeck, Dr Ashok Kumar, cheered: “Incredible news out of Gaza. Victory to the struggle against the occupiers.”

It is telling too that the “wokest” of these academics, such as Goldsmith’s UCU “anti racism officer” Akanksha Mehta, sees no problem in liking tweets on October 7, saying things such as “From the river to the sea. Full solidarity with the Palestinian resistance, today and every day” or more recently: “If people I have previously worked with in any capacity are currently Zionists I don’t have any f**ks left to give about them. There’s a genocide going on – think of how you can use your energies better.”

How far is too far? Perhaps we should be happy that Central St Martin’s lecturer Nasir Mazhar at least deleted his tweet saying: “And we have Zionists in our industry amongst us supporting this. I think it’s near time to name and shame these parasites.” How must his Jewish students feel?

It is hard to say if it is too late to truly get to grips with campus antisemitism; it has been left to foster for far too long. In a bid to try and stamp it out, the government tried to force each university to sign up to the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism. The ensuing debates on campus only led to more antisemitism, while the universities that did sign up seem to have paid scant notice to it.

If we do see the sort of unrest that gripped American colleges then no one can say they weren’t warned. But the bigger problem isn’t the fired-up young radicals, it’s the teachers who are applauding their every move.

May 08, 2024 10:56

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