Jewish university students from across the UK met for a private roundtable discussion in the House of Lords on Thursday to convey their experiences of antisemitism on campus since the October 7 massacre and ensuing war with Hamas.
The meeting, organised by StandWithUs UK, was hosted by Lord Ian Austin and attended also by Lord Stuart Polak and Baroness Diana Barran, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Student Finance.
Over 25 students were present to relay harrowing stories of physical abuse and intimidation, ostracisation from their peers, the politicisation of student unions, and each with a similar story of persistent neglect from university administrations.
Annie Gishen, a fourth-year student at St Andrews University, described how after putting up an Israeli flag in her ground floor dormitory window in the immediate aftermath of October 7, cars would honk their horns as they drove past and people would knock on the window, leading to her taking it down due to safety concerns.
Upon coming home from a weekend in London a couple of months later, Annie found her Israeli and Jewish symbols thrown onto the floor of her bedroom.
When she confronted her roommate, who “had never even been to the Middle East”, she claims she was told: “[The flat] won’t be part of a terrorist government.”
The incident, which made Annie feel “very unsafe” and resulted in her moving out, was reported to the university and, though they were “supportive” and looked into it, Annie has not yet received an official response about its outcome.
Another student from St Andrews, Sharon, discussed instances of abuse, including a Magen David necklace being ripped off another student’s neck and how an “egg was thrown at a visibly Jewish student wearing a kippah”.
The university has not accepted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, leading for it to be open to interpretation by “the very subjective views of staff, who are individuals often with no antisemitism training and no reference to determine what is antisemitic or not”.
Romilly Blitz, a student at University College London, said she has been called a “psychopathic Zionist terrorist” for her support of Israel, that people had pointed to her saying “she’s the Zionist”, and has been told that Hamas “had reasons” for the October 7 massacre.
Emma Levy, a first-year student at Leeds University, recounted how one lecturer told her that Israel “abuses gay Palestinians”, and that Israel’s acceptance of gay lifestyle but its refusal to allow gay marriages to take place in Israel was proof of “pinkwashing to distract the international liberal world of both its genocide and Israeli homophobia”.
The same lecturer said any homophobia within an Islamic or Muslim context was just “their culture and needs to be respected”, and upon which we “can’t impose our western imperialist standards on".
The same lecturer retweeted a post on his private social media account that read “no Zionists allowed on campus” and although the university got him to take down the post after receiving complaints, they issued no statement and the person in question was not disciplined.
Queen Mary University student, Benjamin Lea, told of how societies at the university shared social media posts and statements praising Hamas and the October 7 massacre, with no repercussions whatsoever.
Other students testified to being called “every name under the sun” including “f***ing Jew”, “dirty Zionist”, and “baby killer”.
A swastika was found carved into a classroom desk at Kings College which when reported a staff member said “could be the Buddhist Manji symbol”, and although the desk was removed, no investigation was opened.
Lord Ian Austin said that since October there had been an “undeniable and shocking” rise in antisemitism on social media and on the streets, but “nowhere is it seen more than on campuses”.
Lord Polak said the situation for Jewish young people on campus is not dissimilar to that of 1930s Germany. “It’s that bad”, he said. He expressed deep worry at hearing the accounts from students and said his main concern was the “lack of accountability and action taken by the university administrations.”
He recommended that the students compile a dossier of their accounts and send it to Robert Halfon, Minister of State for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, who Polak assured them would be “shocked” reading it.
Daniel Marcus, director of campus affairs at StandWithUs UK and chair of the meeting, said: “It is vital that representatives of the UK government are under no illusions about the extremity of the situation on UK university campuses for Jewish and Israeli students. These students who joined us today are exceptional in their bravery. However, their experiences are sadly far from exceptional and are fast becoming the norm.
“There must be stronger accountability for university administrations and student unions and zero tolerance for bullying, intimidation and extremism within our academic bodies.”