We have to win the next generation on campus

This isn't merely a Jewish or Israeli issue — it's a societal imperative.


Pro-Palestinian camp at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, on 8 May (Photo by BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP via Getty Images)

May 10, 2024 16:19

As unrest swept American campuses, it served as a stark reminder of the simmering antisemitic sentiments across Western universities, including those in the UK, fuelled by pro-Hamas, radical ideologies and pro-Palestinian groups and organisations.

Celebrating Jewish life on campus and safeguarding students is essential but insufficient; a more proactive stance is imperative. We must reclaim our universities as bastions of open education and free thought, particularly concerning Israel and Zionism.

If there's a common denominator for nearly all the students who take part in the anti-Israeli rallies and encampments, it's that they aren't familiar with the basic facts and history of the issue they're protesting. Some even admit on camera that they aren't educated on the subject but joined the protest to be with their friends. Perhaps the most familiar example is when they fail to identify the river and the sea when they chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

The infiltration of radical ideologies and individuals into student bodies and societies has perverted the noble pursuit of knowledge, transforming campuses into breeding grounds for violence ignorance and intolerance. Celebration of the October 7 massacre on campuses, open support of Hamas and Hezbollah, while Israeli and British citizens are held in captive in Hamas tunnels underscore a disturbing trend of moral disruption in institutions that once were the beacon of the intellectual societies.

Above all, the problem lies in education. Students celebrating the brutal murder of innocents as a normal act of resistance is the result of a lack of basic education in facts and morals, which creates fertile ground for incitement and hatred.

Efforts made by StandWithUs UK to challenge prevailing anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments by educating the students are often met with bureaucratic hurdles, protests and, at times, violence ironically under the guise of preserving "safe spaces" for students - a very distinct type of students.

When more and more student unions are falling into the hands of pro-Palestinian students, Jewish students and non-Jewish Israel supporters in particular find themselves walking a precarious tightrope. To gain approval to host a discussion about the Holocaust, they are compelled to include a pro-Palestinian student who will address the Nakba, in the name of balance. In some instances, questions about events regarding Israel and Zionism have been censored, and a new moderator imposed to 'balance' the discourse. Nearly every event concerning Israel, even those focusing on cultural matters, is met with protests and building blockades, and sometimes necessitate escape through secured rear exits. Antisemitic signage on campus is overseen by the pro-Palestinian extremists. Eighty years after the Holocaust, a symmetry is drawn between antisemitism and Islamophobia; in some universities, Islamophobia is already regarded as a more serious phenomenon.

This Orwellian dystopia is not confined to the realm of fiction; nor is it a historical chapter from Germany in 1934. It is the reality of the the UK of 2024. The catastrophic difference between today and then is that antisemitism on campuses reaches its peak after the massacre of Jews, not before it.

University leadership, regrettably, has failed to stem the tide of extremism, allowing campuses to fester as hotbeds of antisemitic and anti-Western sentiment. Those who have dared to challenge this status quo have been met with resistance, their voices drowned out by the cacophony of intolerance. In some cases, university leaders have supported and encouraged this wave of hate, allowing organisations and individuals openly supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups to operate freely on campus and promote their extreme ideologies. In one instance, students hosted a Palestinian activist who had been imprisoned for the murder of an Israeli. He and others have been presented on campus as freedom heroes and role models.

This isn't merely a Jewish or Israeli issue — it's a societal imperative. The erosion of UK universities as symbols of intellectual freedom poses a threat to us all, undermining the very foundation of democracy. It is incumbent upon us to stand united against the rising tide of extremism, lest we succumb to the tyranny of our own indifference.

The time for action is now.

Isaac Zarfati is Executive Director of StandWithUs

May 10, 2024 16:19

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