Jewish university students ‘are concealing their identity’ on campus due to fears of antisemitism, a new report has found.
A report by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education revealed students at UK institutions did not wear “certain clothing or jewellery around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish.”
The report, titled ‘Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education’, also said students consistently spoke of an “underlying fear of being targeted” over their backgrounds and of being “expected to answer questions about Israel”.
Researched over a six-month period, evidence for the report was collected at 56 different universities across the UK and involved 29 separate campus visits.
Focus groups were conducted with Jewish students and staff members, while organisations such as the Office for Students, the National Union of Students, and the Union of Jewish Students were also consulted.
The report added: “Some students say that they are sometimes reluctant to attend a seminar or lecture depending on the topic of discussion, for fear of personal interrogation, and others told us that this impacted the modules that they chose.
“Staff also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity, and whilst we anticipated the need for confidentiality, we were shocked at how vehement staff were in insisting on this.”
There were also several examples of casual antisemitism directed at Jewish students by their friends and peers.
Recalling one experience, the report said: “One Jewish student shared with us their experience of going out with friends and being told to settle the bill ‘because they could afford it’.”
“Given the comment was made by a friend, they did not seek to report it, but it did make them feel more introverted in the friendship group.”
Jewish students on campus have concealed their identity over antisemitism fears, the report found (Photo: monkeybusinessimages via Getty Images)
Another student was reportedly told at a freshers’ party, “you’re too pretty to be Jewish.” They too chose to ignore the comment without reporting it.
Implementing the internationally recognised IHRA definition of antisemitism is key to fighting discrimination on campus, the report concludes.
Despite concerns expressed by some academics, none of the 56 universities spoken to could identify a single example of the definition restricting freedom of expression.
“Where there are issues or complaints, the IHRA definition should be used as a reference point to understand what contemporary antisemitism is,” it says.
“It should also be used as a reference point for Jewish students and staff (and indeed non-Jewish complainants where relevant), to support them when dealing with issues or submitting complaints.”
The UK’s most powerful academic union, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) is also failing Jewish employees, the report claims.
It said: “Many Jewish academics with whom we spoke are members of UCU and had been for a long time. However, there was a feeling amongst some that the UCU is no longer a place for Jewish people to feel safe and accepted, especially when discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict arise.”
One Jewish member of staff told the inquiry they would not join the union as they had heard about the negative environment that existed for Jews, while another said many staff members wish to join but do not trust UCU to support them on antisemitism.
Joel Rosen, President of the Union of Jewish Students, said: "This report makes clear the importance of listening to Jewish students and their elected representatives such as Jsocs and UJS when combatting antisemitism.
“The report details the complex picture across fifty six campuses and offers deliverable recommendations which, if implemented, will have a tangible impact on Jewish students’ experience of university.
“It is essential reading for universities and student unions across the sector. Jewish students are grateful to the Taskforce for their diligence and considerable efforts."
The parliamentary taskforce who prepared the report was established by the government’s antisemitism czar Lord John Mann in 2022 and led by Dame Margaret Hodge and Nicola Richards.
Lord Mann said: “This report is a vital piece of research that will help both guide universities and support Jewish students and staff on campus.
“It evidences how allowing free speech on campuses and protecting Jewish students against antisemitism do not contradict each other if universities have clear definitions, good systems and have included Jewish students and staff in creating a safe space on campus.”
Creating a positive environment for all students is the “essence” of what universities should be about, he added.
Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education Robert Halfon said: “Antisemitism has no place in our universities and it is vital that strong action is taken to combat it, ensuring that Jewish students and staff feel safe and valued on campus.
“We welcome the publication of this important report and its findings as it builds on the government’s work to tackle this issue, including recruiting almost all of the country’s universities to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and challenging divisive boycott actions.
"The recommendations and good practice guide set out in this report provide a valuable framework for universities to work within to make student life welcoming for Jewish people.”
A spokesperson for the UCU said: “The University and College Union is a proudly inclusive union with a long history of fighting antisemitism. We are always open to feedback on how we can make the union more welcoming to Jewish members and will reflect on the points raised.”