Genocide posters, non-stop Gaza demos and a call for intifada: Welcome to University of East Anglia

Jewish students reveal safety fears after campus buildings were sprayed with anti-Zionist graffiti


Jewish students at the University of East Anglia have spoken of their saftey fears after they woke up on Monday morning to find campus buildings graffitied with anti-Israel slogans. 

The vandalism included graffiti that said “Zionism = colonialism”, “Zionism ≠ Judaism”, “29000 Gazans killed” and “126 journalists killed in Gaza”. 

An allegation that Barclay’s bank “finances genocide” was scrawled on the main sign at the entrance of the university.

Students said the graffiti was “everywhere”.

A spokesperson for the university said they were working with the police to identify those responsible for the vandalism, which they said was antisemitic and would remove as quickly as possible.

One Jewish student who lives on campus right next to the graffiti and said it was “Scary to see, especially after what happened at Leeds.”

Leeds University Hillel House was targeted with anti-Israel graffiti the same week that an Israeli chaplain was forced into hiding and two Jewish students were verbally attacked on their way to synagogue.

The defacement of the UEA campus comes amid rising tensions at the Norwich university.

The JC spoke to several students who wanted to remain anonymous but said they were feeling “scared and targeted” on campus in the wake of October 7. At least one Jewish student is too scared to go onto the “anti-Israel and anti-Zionist" campus.

The Jewish Student Society comprises of 32 members and has taken to meeting at the local synagogue off campus in a bid to stay safe.

“We don’t feel safe wearing our JSoc hoodies on campus – they don’t have anything to do with Israel or Zionism on them – but they have big Stars of David,” said one first year student, adding: “Wearing them might be dangerous”.

The student went on: “No one is wearing a kippah on campus, but if someone wanted to, they wouldn’t given the atmosphere.”

The student said: “Spray paint is not the problem; what matters is the people who did this, they need to be held to account.

“It wasn’t surprising because the atmosphere is so tense; it feels like it’s reaching a point where there will be physical danger,” said the fresher.

Days after the massacre in the south of Israel, student members of the Marxist and Arab Societies attempted to pass a motion at the UEA Students’ Union (SU) that called for “Intifada until victory!”

According to a different student, at the next SU meeting, a debate on the definition of antisemitism was “derailed into a discussion about the Israeli genocide.” Jewish students who proposed the antisemitism motion were called “racist Tories.” At a third meeting, students voted to stand “wholeheartedly with Palestinians.”

A student told the JC, “the difference in their ‘wholehearted’ support for Palestinians v their limited or lack of support for Jewish victims in Israel is clear – they don’t want to stand with Jews”.

The Israeli flag has been ripped down at least five times from campus since the start of the war. Last year, a display of world flags that was meant to represent diversity did not include the Israeli flag until a member of the Jewish community added it.

Students said that every Friday night the area of campus with restaurants, cafes and shops is “taken over” with a vigil for Palestine.

One student recalled an “aggressive conversation” where an SU official offered to show another Jewish student their dissertation on “oppression” as proof that they knew what discrimination was. The SU official walked out of the meeting and called a Jewish student a “genocide apologist”.

One student is so frustrated by the perceived lack of action from the university and SU, that he wrote to union officials. His letter read: “We warned you. We warned you almost 4 months ago when you were protecting the ‘Israel is committing genocide’ poster. We warned you at every single union council when you spewed out your hate towards us and told us how to feel. We warned you that Jewish students do not feel safe on campus.

“You never listened, not once. You may not have been the people to put up the graffiti, but I wholeheartedly blame you, as people in positions of power, for this ridiculous harassment on campus. Do you not see how this is reminiscent of the Holocaust?”

Several students have requested that SU officers step down and that the university conduct an independent review into antisemitism on the East Anglian campus.

A UEA spokesperson told the JC: "Bullying, harassment and hate crimes are not, and will not be, tolerated at the University of East Anglia.

“At UEA our priority is to keep students and staff safe and ensure the wellbeing of all on our campus. This requires all of us to act respectfully and compassionately towards others.

“As a university we will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any form of racism, hate crime, harassment, or discrimination. This also extends into the digital world, including social media. All members of UEA have a right to access campus and to study and work without intimidation or fear.

“Support is available to all our staff and students in the form of our wellbeing service and through our Report and Support initiative for anyone who has experienced or witnessed any form of hate incident, harassment, bullying or violence. We act on all of these reports and proactively bring in other parties, including the police, where relevant. We also pursue our own internal disciplinary investigations as required.

“We recognise that members of our diverse community will hold different perspectives, but as a university our responsibility is to ensure we maintain an environment where staff and students can feel safe and comfortable to express lawful opinions. We have reiterated to all our staff and students the need to be respectful of others and our obligation to continue to foster a safe, inclusive, and respectful culture on campus.

“We meet regularly with campus groups, including the Jewish Society and Islamic Society, to ensure that their voices are heard and that they have the support they need. We have undertaken training with senior members of staff through Community Security Trust and plan to offer that more widely in the coming months.

“The UEA campus was recently defaced with antisemitic graffiti and we are working with the police to identify those responsible. The comments made do not reflect the views of the University and do not meet our values. Arrangements have been made to remove the graffiti as quickly as possible and support is being offered to students distressed by it.

“Separately, a review of actions taken by the Students’ Union with respect to the conflict in Gaza is also now under way and will report in a few months.”

The Students’ Union said: “Providing safe spaces for students to access and use are at the heart of what we do as a Students' Union. At the end of last year a series of controversial banners and posters were placed in the Students’ Union building. This caused the SU to review its policy.

“We have removed all posters, banners, flags, and lettering from the main space within the Students’ Union building. For freedom of speech purposes, we have put up two message boards in a corner of the building so students have a dedicated place to post their opinions, thoughts and student-related news.

“A peaceful Palestine vigil – run by a society which is democratically governed – takes place from 2 to 6pm at the latest, outside of the Students’ Union. This does not cause any issues with access to either the Students’ Union building or any other campus amenity and has been allocated a corner of the space.

“Union Council has voted and passed a solidarity motion with Palestinian workers and Youth. The word ‘Intifada’ was not in the resolution and therefore does not form any part of Students’ Union policy.”

“A meeting did take place between some students and elected students. We are sorry to hear that students felt distressed following the meeting as a Union we are trying to ensure we provide safe spaces for all – where all views and opinions, within the bounds of freedom of speech can be listened to and respected.”

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