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Revealed: Minister held crisis meeting over antisemitism surge in schools

It comes as more incidents were recorded in the last seven weeks than the whole of last year

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Credit: Stephen Chung / Alamy Stock Photo

The government held a crisis meeting with Jewish groups earlier this month to discuss an unprecedented surge of antisemitism in schools, the JC can reveal.

In a wave of hatred, pupils in primary schools have been told by classmates that Jews must be wiped out and Jewish teachers have resigned amid torrents of abuse.

There have been more reported antisemitic incidents in schools in the seven weeks since October 7 than the whole of 2022, according to the Community Security Trust (CST).

Jewish teachers have revealed that schools are cancelling planned events on Judaism and Holocaust education because they are seen as too “political” during the Israel-Hamas war.

In last week’s autumn statement, the government pledged to spend an extra £7 million on tackling Jew-hatred in schools and universities and to continue to award an extra £3 million a year to the CST.

It comes as analysis by data scientists revealed this week that for every pro-Israel video that is viewed on TikTok in the UK — the social-media platform of choice for the under-18s — 65 pro-Palestinian videos are seen.

Imran Ahmed, director of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, said that children were now viewing large volumes of “deeply distorted” information that “derive from platforms that are full of disinformation and conspiracy theories about Israel and terrorism”.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who convened the meeting with Jewish community leaders to discuss the crisis, said: “It has been shocking and heartbreaking to hear about the hate Jewish teachers and young people have experienced, and the damage that abuse has caused.

“When my ministers and I met with Jewish education leaders — and separately when I joined a Jewish Society student round table two weeks ago week — people described feeling unsafe, which should never be the case in modern Britain.”

This, she said, was why Chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged the extra cash, adding: “As a government we will always stand up for our fundamental British values, stand united against hate and intolerance, and nowhere more so than in our schools.”

According to Lord Mann, the government’s independent antisemitism adviser, the problem has become so entrenched that it was now essential to provide training to every schoolteacher on how to recognise and deal with it.

This, he told the JC, “must be a top priority” for whichever party wins next year’s general election.

In the six weeks after October 7, the CST recorded 99 incidents in schools, compared to just 94 in the whole of 2022.

Of the post-October 7 incidents, 45 affected students and teachers at non-Jewish schools, of which six were primaries; 32 involved Jewish children being harassed and abused travelling to and from school; and 16 involved Jewish school students and staff.

The CST recorded a further six cases in which children from non-Jewish schools abused adult members of the public.

Bridget Phillipson, the Labour shadow education secretary, said she was “deeply alarmed by the horrifying surge in antisemitic abuse suffered by Jewish children and school staff”.

Having visited Jewish schools, she added: “I’ve heard first-hand about the terrifying scale at which these incidents are growing.

“All children should be able to come to school and learn in safety without the fear of harassment.

“That’s why it’s crucial that the Department for Education better communicates with schools to support them through this difficult period and ensure that leaders and staff have all the resources they need to deal with antisemitic hatred.”

Among the incidents logged by the CST is the case of an eight-year-old at a non-Jewish school who was told by a classmate he “wanted to kill all Jews”.

As the JC reveals (see panel below), the boy was already traumatised because four members of his family had been murdered in the Hamas attacks.

In another CST case, a Jewish girl was singled out by a group of girls saying, “You know she’s a Jew, right,” and, “All Israelis should die.”

Another incident involved a WhatsApp group chat in which the victim was told to “Go back to the chambers u f******g big nosed vegan b***h”. In yet another case, a group of children cornered a Jewish pupil, told him they were “Jewphobic” and blamed him for the killings of Palestinians.

The JC can also reveal the case of an Oxford sixth-former who has deleted her social media accounts because friends were posting claims the terrorist attacks were justified by Israel’s “genocide” of Palestinians, and that the atrocities had been exaggerated because Jews control the media.

In another incident logged by the CST, a Jewish school in London was sent a letter saying: “Well done Hamas. You Jews will pay the price for what you have done. From a PLO Team.”

Teachers have also suffered examples of intimidation and discrimination. One said they had resigned from a London comprehensive last week after being abused multiple times by both students and staff members.

A CST spokesman said: “The amount of antisemitism affecting schools and schoolchildren is utterly depressing. It involves young people with limited understanding of the complexity of the conflict, who are thoughtlessly repeating antisemitic ideas they have heard from others or seen online.”

Referring to the “school strikes for Palestine”, which have seen parents take their children out of school to take part in anti-Israel protests, he added: “In this atmosphere, the fact that some children are being encouraged to skip school to protest against Israel is grossly irresponsible and risks whipping up this one-sided, intimidatory behaviour even further.

“Thankfully most of the schools we have dealt with have responded well when antisemitism has occurred and have shown the necessary support to Jewish children and parents, but this problem needs a long-term educational solution to prevent it getting much worse.”

Experts agree that one of the main drivers of the surge in hatred of Israel and Jews among young people is social media. Last week, TikTok finally blocked the hashtag “letter to America”, which saw thousands of posts applauding a letter by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that was published in The Guardian.

But a cursory search reveals that countless videos citing the letter are still available, some under slightly different hashtags in which “America” is misspelt.

Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, told the JC that social media platforms do not exist in order to disseminate truth, but to “generate clicks and engagement”. One of the best ways to do this, he said, was by posting extremist “hate and disinformation”.

Algorithms “know” that triggering anger and hostility “is very good for TikTok and X”, he said, which was why the platforms were so reluctant to remove offensive posts. “That will cost them money,” Ahmed said.

“This means their understanding is deeply distorted, derived from platforms that are full of disinformation and conspiracy theories about Israel and terrorism.

“But there can be no clearer example of how disinformation and hatred are linked than the surge in antisemitism. There are clear links between lies on social media and Jewish blood being spilled,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Jeff Morris Jr, a US tech executive, asked whether TikTok was responsible for fuelling the wave of anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment in US schools and campuses.

US Jewish data scientist Anthony Goldbloom then crunched some numbers and found that in the UK, 65 pro-Palestinian videos were being shared for every pro-Israel clip.

This adds to the sense that in the current war, education about Jews, Judaism and the Holocaust is losing, rather than gaining ground. Anna Silver, the Board of Deputies’ education officer, said: “My job normally involves teaching Judaism.

”But since October 7, I feel I’ve been doing two jobs — that and dealing with the fallout of antisemitism in schools.”

Several schools have cancelled planned courses run by the Board to teach non-Jewish students about the Jewish faith, Silver revealed, apparently because the war has made this seem “controversial”.

The Board also organises travelling exhibitions about Judaism; one that tours schools in the south, the other the north of the country. These events have also been cancelled.

“I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle,” Silver said, “and that this is the worst period for antisemitism in schools that we’ve ever experienced.”

Cate Hollis, director of the education theatre company Voices of the Holocaust, told the JC that several schools had cancelled performances of her company’s play that presents the story of Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack.

“They’ve given various excuses, but one teacher at a school that cancelled told that staff had expressed fears the production would ‘stir up trouble’,” Hollis said.

“What does that say about where we are as a community and society? Another school told me it would be seen as ‘political’.”

TikTok said in response to previous claims that the platform is an “antisemitic movement”: “We recognise this is an incredibly difficult and fearful time for millions of people around the world.

Our leadership has been meeting with creators, civil society, human rights experts and stakeholders to listen to their experiences and feedback on how TikTok can remain a place for community, discovery and sharing authentically.”

The primary school boy whose friend threatened to kill him

A month after the start of the Israel -Hamas war, Hadar’s eight-year-old son Eli (not his real name) was having lunch at his primary school near Reading, sitting with a friend he had known since reception class.

The boy asked him: “Who do you support, Israel or Palestine?” Eli, who parents are Israeli, replied: “Israel”.

“Well I support Palestine,” the boy said, “and I want to kill all the Jews,” repeating this threat numerous times.

Eli took him literally — four of his relatives were murdered by Hamas at Kibbutz Be’eri.

“He was terrified,” Hadar told the JC, “scared that the boy and his family might find out where we live and kill us too.”

The head, Hadar said, has performed impeccably, warning the boy and his parents that she had “zero tolerance” for such behaviour, and that if it were repeated, he would have to leave the school. The incident has also been reported to police.

But the whole family has been traumatised. “We don’t speak Hebrew outside the house and we don’t venture into big cities in case we run into one of these hate marches,” Hadar said.

“I do what I can to make the children feel safe. But I’m not feeling secure at all. I used to come to the school and explain about Chanukah.

“But Eli and his older sister are the only Jews in the school. Finding out that little boys are using the language of terrorism has come as a real shock.”

Oxford sixth-former whose friend backs Hamas online

Esther (not her real name), a student taking A-levels at a comprehensive school in Oxford, has just deleted all her social media accounts — “because every time I looked, I saw friends posting that what Hamas did on October 7 was not a terrorist attack, they had every right to do it.

“People have even claimed the children held hostage are fakes created by AI, and that the atrocities have been exaggerated because Jews control the media.

They talk about child victims of the war in Gaza, but never those in Israel, using language that reminds you of the blood libel trope. I had a conversation about this with a Muslim friend who told me Israel has been committing genocide against the Palestinians for years.”

In the early days of the conflict, Esther said, a protest took place in her school car park where students waved “a huge Palestinian flag”.

Others wore Palestinian flags on their lanyards, while her younger brother had been told that Jews worship the devil.

“What was already a difficult situation has got much worse,” she told the JC, “especially the antisemitism online.

”People think that because they supported Ukraine or the Black Lives Matter movement, they’re obliged to support Palestine.”

Esther’s father is Israeli and despite her British upbringing, she now plans to move to the Jewish state.

“After the past few weeks, I feel that no matter how long I live here, there will always be difficult discussions about my identity. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life having to prove myself because I am a Jew.”

The teacher who faced antisemitism in the classroom and the staff room

Last week Susan (not her real name) resigned from her job as a teacher in a north London comprehensive, having faced severe antisemitism from both students and fellow staff. Some of it, she told the JC, dates back years, but since October 7 it has become far worse.

She has kept a written record, which she shared with the JC.

She said recent incidents involving students include one who told her she “refuses to learn about Judaism because black people are the real Jews”, several examples of both swastikas and Adolf Hitler’s name being scrawled on students’ artwork, and students turning up for classes with Palestinian flags and the words “free Palestine” drawn on their arms.

One, she said, “used black paper to make a moustache and did a Nazi salute in class”.
Even more hurtful was the response from other members of staff. “I have been told that we [the Jews] control the world, and that Jews are ‘the mafia’,” Susan said.

One colleague had described Hamas as “freedom fighters” — yet when she questioned this, citing the atrocities, he said he “doesn’t watch the news”.

Susan said another teacher, a senior department head, made a slide depicting Hitler and asked a Year 7 class to “discuss how he was a successful leader”, falsely claiming that members of the Nazi SS were “forced” to become death camp guards.

As for the Hamas massacre, “I was told that I shouldn’t complain about what Jewish people are going through when a Palestinian child had a gun pointed at his head by the IDF.”

Susan told the JC: “The last few weeks have been very tough. I have come across antisemitism on a regular basis for the past 16 years, but this has been really horrible.”

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