Report reveals widespread university antisemitism

CST investigation is evidence of a ‘culture problem’ on campuses, says Lord John Mann


A new investigation by the Community Security Trust has detailed widespread antisemitism at British universities.

A report by CST said that over the past two academic years there had been 123 antisemitic incidents perpetrated by students, academic staff,  union officials and student society officers.

Thirty-nine university antisemitic incidents recorded by CST took place on campus, 33 took place off campus and 51 were online. CST recorded four instances of assault, seven in the category of damage and desecration to Jewish property; five in the category of threats; and 107 incidents of abusive behaviour.

Fifteen of the incidents in the report were perpetrated by staff, including four at the University of Warwick, two at the University of Leeds and two at the University of Nottingham.

Nine university incidents were perpetrated by student union officers or were related to society members and events.

The responses of some universities to complaints of antisemitism were found by CST to be inconsistent and, in the worst cases, increased the harm felt by Jewish students.

In one example, a Jewish student at the University of Warwick was subjected to a disciplinary complaint by academic staff after he reported that a lecturer had made an antisemitic comment in a lecture. The complaint against the student was later dropped with no action taken.
CST Chief Executive Mark Gardner said:  “University should be an excellent experience for young people, but CST’s detailed study shows that antisemitism is a real problem for some Jewish students, mostly involving racism and ignorance from other young people, either verbally or via social media. 

“The most serious cases occur where universities deny their students adequate protection, either from visiting hate speakers, or from their own politically-biased academics pushing conspiracy theories, including about British Jews, antisemitism and the Labour Party.”

Union of Jewish Students President James Harris said: “Amidst rising antisemitism on campus over the last two academic years, it is evident that certain universities have woefully disregarded their duty of care to Jewish students. All students deserve the right to study without the fear of discrimination. Whilst many institutions have equality and anti-racism frameworks, these have proven to be completely inadequate when protecting Jewish students. When antisemitism does arise, Jewish students rightly expect that it will be taken seriously and dealt with effectively. I look forward to the day where this is the case at every single university.”

CST recorded a total of 58 university antisemitic incidents in the 2018/2019 academic year and 65 university incidents in the 2019/2020 academic year.
This is a significant increase in incident totals – but it also reflects a sustained drive by CST’s campus team to encourage students to report antisemitic incidents.

“Jewish students are being failed by many universities,” said Bradley Langer, Campaigns Officer for the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
“Every student has a right to study with respect and dignity without fear of discrimination. When antisemitism does arise, students need to feel protected by their universities, with proper investigation launched and action taken. As this report shows, this is not currently the case at every university.”

Detailing incidents involving university staff, ‘Campus Antisemitism in Britain 2018-2020’ features a case in which CST received a report from a Birmingham University student regarding a guest lecture in the Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences course.

The student reported that after asking who in the class was Jewish, the guest lecturer claimed that the Holocaust was very Jewish focused and that it should not be since other people were killed too.

A formal complaint was never made to the university, but it was informally reported to the course leader, who was in attendance at the lecture and who, according to the student, agreed to back their claims if a complaint was made.

The report also details how in November 2019, a Jewish student contacted CST regarding a lecture given on Israel and Palestine by Goldie Osuri, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick.
According to the student, the lecturer told the students, “the next time they say that the Labour Party is antisemitic, you know there are some people that are possibly antisemitic, but this idea that the Labour Party is antisemitic is very much an Israeli lobby kind of idea...”

In September, however, the university said that while “the sociology student was clearly offended and upset by what was said and did perceive it as an experience of racism” there were “insufficient grounds” to progress a complaint against Ms Osuri over the statement.

The report stresses that for the majority of the estimated 8,500 Jewish students, with 67 Jewish societies in operation across campuses, there will not be any experience of antisemitism during their time at university.

But the CST study suggests “antisemitism occurs frequently enough that it can sometimes present a significant challenge.”

The locations where CST recorded five or more university antisemitic incidents in the past two academic years are Coventry (14 incidents, 13 of which took place at the University of Warwick), Birmingham (13), Leeds (11), Nottingham (nine), Bristol (seven) and Leicester (five). Apart from Coventry and Leicester, these are the locations of the universities with the largest Jewish student populations.

While there were no incidents of extreme violence over the past two academic years, the report recorded four instances of assault, one each in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. 

The CST calls for universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism to ensure that there is a common, accepted and practical standard with which to measure antisemitism and assess complaints. 

They also say universities should allow third party organisations such as CST or the Union of Jewish Students to submit complaints regarding antisemitism on behalf of students. This is common practice in reporting hate crime to police or other bodies. 

Universities should have an adequate and reasonable time frame in which to respond to and resolve complaints, say CST,  and should accept complaints from students who have already graduated. 

Lord John Mann, the government’s adviser on antisemitism added: “All students should have the right to be who they want to be on campus. That is as true for Jewish students as anyone else. Those rights must not be dictated by fellow students, academic staff, students’ union officials, or others. CST’s report evidences a clear problem in university culture, and a lack of protection for Jewish students. I welcome CST’s recommendations and expect all higher and further education institutions to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as a statement of their values and a commitment to tackling antisemitism.”

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