I was called a ‘brainwashed Zionist’ after I told students about friends killed in Israel

Since October 7, Jewish students across Britain have been hit by a wave of abuse


'Zionists off our campus': protestors at Birmingham University

Jewish students at British universities have received death threats and have faced bullying over family ties to Israel as antisemitism soars on campuses in the wake of the October 7 attack.

The revelations come after Leeds University’s Jewish chaplain was forced into hiding on the advice of police.

Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, his wife Nava and their two children received a campaign of abusive calls, and death and rape threats directed at them after he returned to Israel to serve as an IDF reservist.

Speaking to the JC, Jewish students have detailed their experiences of rising antisemitism on campuses across the country.

Romilly Blitz, a first year student at UCL studying politics and history, said she was labelled a “brainwashed Zionist” by classmates after she talked about her friends who were killed in Israel and one who narrowly escaped death at the October 7 Re’im music festival massacre.

“I said Hamas are antisemitic, they want to kill all Jews,” she said. “They said all Israelis want to kill Palestinians—that’s a blood libel.”

Other students later shared messages on social media about Blitz in which they attacked her as a “psychopathic genocidal Israeli,” despite the fact that she is British.

“People have come up to my friends and said she’s a settler, she’s pro-genocide, she’s an Israeli, don’t be friends with her,” she said.

“I can’t explain how horrible it’s been. Students have made my life hell for the past four months. I’ve missed half my classes… It’s so pervasive how the Zionism, how the Israel thing is. They find out you have family there and they hold it against you.

“Several times people have told me Hamas are resistance—they have no compassion.”

After Blitz complained to UCL about her harassment, university staff arranged a meeting with several of her alleged bullies to help her find “common ground” with them, an email seen by the JC shows.

“I don’t think there is a middle ground,” she said in response. “You told me I’m a settler colonialist who wants to kill Palestinians.”

Edward Isaacs, president of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), said that individual Jewish students and JSocs had recieved “graphic” death threats following October 7.

"Many Jewish students have also been targeted by verbal and physical harassment, often contributing to a feeling of marginalisation and not being welcome in campus spaces that should be open and tolerant of all,” he said.

"It is clear that universities need to take urgent measures to do more to protect their Jewish students from violent antisemitism.

"These measures must be both preventative, through education such as UJS' antisemitism awareness training, and punitive, through swift and decisive consequences for perpetrators of antisemitism.

"Security staff must be aware of the challenges that Jewish students face on campus, and ready to step in to prevent antisemitic abuse from happening in the first place.”

In Birmingham, one Jewish student heard a protester scream “death to Zionists” and “burn in hell’ as radicals demonstrated against Israel.

Last week, anti-Israel activists held up a banner at the Midlands university that read: “Zionists off our campus”.

In a statement the Union of Jewish Students and Birmingham Jewish Society 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.”

One Israeli student enrolled at Brunel University London has meanwhile abandoned plans to stay in Britain after graduating after another student threatened to kill her.

The second year student, who does not wish to be named, said that she met a Palestinian woman at a party who told her: “I’m an extremist, I’m proud of it, I don’t think your people should be alive.”

A Brunel spokesperson said the university had taken “immediate action” over the incident at the time and were still examining the case. 

“I don’t feel safe on campus. I’m taking every precaution I can,” the Israeli student said.

“You will never find me with any identifiable thing. I have really long hair so I really wear it up because people have recognised me by my hair. Everybody in my friend group has my location at all times via find my iphone.”

She added: “I’m not planning on staying in the UK. After October 7 it’s not realistic. I don’t want to hide my identity.”

Daniel Marcus, campus director of pro-Israel educational body Stand With Us, said that every time he organised an event at a British university where a guest speaker discussed antisemitism, a student would put their hand up and say, “that’s happened to me.”

He added: “We’ve seen physical bullying, physical violence, we’ve seen bullying and harassment on courses, students who felt uncomfortable on their courses, and student unions staffed by people with extreme political biases.”

Anti-Israel students circulate “dossiers” of information on pro-Israel students to coordinate their harassment, he claimed.

At Central Saint Martins, one lecturer has defended Hamas and attacked Zionist “parasites” in the fashion industry in the wake of the October 7 attack.

Acclaimed milliner Nasir Mazhar, who teaches on the Fashion Menswear MA course at the London university, wrote on Instagram in December: “Hamas is a resistance movement and Palestinians have every right under international law to defend themselves and resist the theft and occupation of its land from European and American settlers.” Mazhar was contacted for comment.

Leeds University has condemned the antisemitic abuse of chaplain Rabbi Deutsch and his family and are supporting a police investigation into death threats directed at them.

He went into hiding after the Yorkshire campus’s Hillel House was vandalised with “free Palestine” graffiti.

Professor James Dickins had suggested that activists demonstrate outside the Jewish student centre to protest the appearance of an Israeli rapper, the Telegraph reported. There is no suggestion that he supported the graffiti.

In January, a Community Security Trust report revealed that campus antisemitism had increased by 22 per cent in Britain over the past two years. Over that period, 150 university related antisemitic incidents were reported to the charity across 30 towns and cities.

Lord Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, condemned the “worrying and unacceptable” rise.

He added: “It is imperative that more is done to protect Jewish students and staff from the scourge of antisemitism.”

A spokesperson for Brunel University London said: “We’re aware of an incident that was reported in October 2022, and immediate action was taken at the time. However, the case wasn’t dropped and dialogue has continued with the student; we’ll also be meeting with them as a priority next week.

“We will never tolerate any incidents of antisemitism on campus and will continue to work closely with members of our Jewish community to ensure they feel fully supported at all times.

“We pride ourselves on having a truly diverse, international and inclusive community where students and staff should always feel safe and respected.”

The Metropolitan Police have been contacted for comment.

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