Jewish students at the University of Birmingham have spoken of their fear after activists held up a banner which said, “Zionists off our campus” and chanted “death to Zionists”.
The rally, which took place on Birmingham’s campus on Wednesday was part of a “day of action” organised by the Stop the War coalition and Palestine Solidarity campaign.
A statement issued by UJS and Birmingham's Jsoc said safety on campus had been “broken”. They said: “We're scared and we're heartbroken. This antisemitic hatred has been allowed to fester on our campus for too long. The University of Birmingham must take action now.”
The offensive sign was held up during a so-called “workplace day of action” on Wednesday when students up and down the country took part in walkouts and occupied buildings.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said in a tweet: “@UniBirmingham claims that it offers a “welcoming and supportive environment”. It doesn’t look that way. We urgently look forward to hearing how this will be addressed.”
CAA told followers that they offer free legal representation to those affected by anti-Jewish racism.
History Simon Schama tweeted, “They must understand that means anyone believing in Israel's right to exist - that's what a Zionist is - is banned from this university. Judenrein in Birmingham” – a reference to the Nazi term used to describe an area in which Jews had been murdered during the Holocaust.
However, several noted their support for the anti-Zionist sentiment. One X user tweeted, “Zionists off our campus” is too kind, they should be burned alive” while a separate user said, “Nothing wrong with saying "Nazis off our campus"
Unrest at British universities comes as a tribunal ruled that anti-Zionism can be classified as a protected philosophical belief under the 2010 Equality Act. The David Miller ruling found that the disgraced professor was wrongly dismissed for expressing anti-Zionist views, which included calling for the defeat of Zionism.
Lawyers have subsequently pointed out that if anti-Zionism can be protected under the law, then so can Zionism. When asked about the ruling, Barrister Jonathan Turner told the JC that the ruling “should ensure that Zionism is also treated as a protected characteristic.
“This could have substantial benefits in fighting discrimination, harassment and victimisation against Jews and others for real or supposed support for Israel”, Turner went on.
A spokesperson for the University of Birmingham said: “We are undertaking a swift review and investigation into the events which took place on campus on the afternoon of Wednesday 7 February, including taking external advice.
“The University is committed to freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest. However, this must be carried out safely, respectfully and within the law, and we have established processes to enable this to happen. The University approved an application under its Freedom of Speech Code of Practice by the local branch of the UCU to undertake a silent vigil on Wednesday. The so-called student walkout began immediately after this and was not approved by the University. We had no contact from the organisers and they did not seek permission for the event. It is also our understanding that the organisers are not a current recognised student society.
“Our priority is to ensure the safety of all our community. While we acknowledge that our students and staff hold a range of opinions about the politics and geopolitics of Israel and Palestine, we expect that they engage with each other in a respectful manner. We unequivocally condemn Antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate speech, and do not tolerate discrimination on campus.
“We are in close contact with our Guild of Students and student and staff groups and networks to ensure that they feel supported. Students and staff can access support and report any instances of harassment through our online portal.
“Students and staff can report incidents and harassment (including anonymously) through our dedicated reporting portal: https://reportandsupport.birmingham.ac.uk/
“Students can access emotional support at any time 24/7/365 through our dedicated helpline UB Heard: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/student/your-wellbeing/mental-health/ubheard.aspx
“Students and staff can contact the Campus Safety and Security team, including the Campus Police Team: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/campus-services/safety-security/index.aspx
Birmingham students’ union has been approached for comment.