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March 11, 2016 5:15 pm

Controversial Play Just the Latest Antisemitic Episode at UK’s York University, Say Jewish Students

avatar by Andrew Pessin

Heslington Hall, University of York, UK. Photo: Wikipedia

Heslington Hall, University of York, UK. Photo: Wikipedia

Jewish students at Britain’s University of York this week refused to sign a joint statement with the university after meeting with officials to discuss antisemitism on campus, The Algemeiner has learned. At issue was the statement’s failure to address the recent campus performance of a controversial play as part of “Israeli Apartheid Week,” as well as to acknowledge the difficulties Jewish students have been experiencing in recent years.

Zachary Confino, a third-year law student and a member of York’s Jewish Society who participated in the university meeting, told The Algemeiner that he has personally experienced or witnessed “a fair amount” of antisemitism in the last few years.

His list of 17 examples, dating back to October 2013, included the removal of his mezuzah from his dorm room door, being told that Jews control the world, being called a “stupid Israeli t**t” (he is not Israeli), being told that if he doesn’t want to receive antisemitic abuse, he should support the boycott movement against Israel, and witnessing numerous social media postings comparing Israelis to Nazis, accusing a Jewish student running for a campus position of “dual loyalty,” and comments supporting Hitler.

Given these experiences, and that his past reports of such incidents to the university resulted in no action, he found the proposed university statement unacceptable. As he explained this week to the UK’s Jewish Chronicle:

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What they are trying to do is whitewash everything and smooth over their media image. We accepted [that the statement] would be looking forward [to dealing with future antisemitic incidents] but we also thought it would touch on the past because that is what led to this. We cannot co-sign it at the moment.

The immediate trigger for the meeting with the university was the performance of the 2009 play, “Seven Jewish Children,” several times over the past two weeks, as part of the “Israeli Apartheid Week” sponsored by York’s Palestinian Solidarity Society. The staging of the play, widely deemed antisemitic, inspired York’s Jewish Society to protest, putting out a statement on its Facebook page that read, in part:

Seven Jewish Children is not a play about Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews and alleged Jewish behavior is core throughout it. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

The Jewish Society alerted York’s Student Union to the antisemitism of the play, Confino told The Algemeiner, but the response was only that there was no “no-platform” policy, meaning that the play could not be banned as long as it was deemed “safe.”

The Jewish Society statement observed:

This is a classic, and awful, example of how Jewish concerns are treated with contempt by a student body that claims to have universal anti-racist values … [The Union] has not taken a stand against this play and the antisemitism therein. The Jewish Society finds this approach to be entirely inconsistent with [the Union’s] commitment to challenging antisemitism in a serious manner.

In a statement to the Jewish Chronicle after the meeting with students, David Duncan, York’s registrar and secretary, said, in part:

The meeting discussed the issue of race hate and antisemitism and began a dialogue about how the University and the Jewish Society can work together to address this very serious matter.

They agreed to discuss further practical steps aimed at: reassuring students who are concerned about antisemitism, raising awareness about the points of contact students can use to raise specific concerns, ensuring that Jewish staff and students of all nationalities feel welcome at York.

The University representatives indicated that they were seeking external advice from the Community Security Trust. They would also be meeting with other societies and groups to hear their views and address any concerns they might have.

Seven Jewish Children has generated controversy since it was written in 2009. Famed writer and critic Howard Jacobson described it as perpetuating the “medieval blood-libel of Jews rejoicing in the murder of little children,” “Jew-hating pure and simple.” The Community Security Trust mentioned in the university statement, a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for UK Jewish communities, concurred, writing: “Jews, children, blood and … the Passover seder: this mixture has a murderous antisemitic past … Here is a rule of thumb: when people describe Israel with the same language and imagery that antisemites use to talk about Jews, the difference between the two disappears.”

Confino noted, in conclusion, to The Algemeiner: “We have been unsupported by the Students’ Union and the University especially as they claim [the play] was not antisemitic — when even the Community Security Trust does!”

On Thursday The Algemeiner reported on a new study documenting “serious antisemitism” across many campuses in the United Kingdom.

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