UK Jewish Students, Advocates Say Labour Encouraging Campus Antisemitism
Concerns over antisemitism affect the university selection process of some Jewish students in the United Kingdom, with advocates blaming the opposition Labour Party’s attitude to anti-Jewish discrimination for the rise in hostility, the BBC reported on Monday.
Jewish high school students in Manchester told the “Newsbeat” radio show that they have avoided applying to certain universities after hearing of antisemitic incidents on campus.
One, identified only as Sam, said he ruled out a top institution for his chosen course of study because it “had incidents in the past of antisemitism.”
“My parents said to me they wouldn’t feel comfortable with me going, so I didn’t apply,” he recalled.
Another student, Charlotte, explained that she was “very conscious” of campus antisemitism when deciding where to apply.
“If I am involved in an antisemitic incident I want there to be people who can help me through it,” she said.
Josh Holt, president of the Union of Jewish Students, told “Newsbeat” that the hostility some Jewish students have reported feeling on campus was tied to the antisemitism scandal that has engulfed Labour under its socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner, who once referred to the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” faced increasing criticism since his election in 2015 for inappropriate behavior by some members of his party, among them a Labour parliamentarian who said Israelis should “relocate” to the United States and a former London mayor who claimed that Adolf Hitler had once been a Zionist.
Under Corbyn’s leadership, multiple Labour council candidates and potential candidates were found to have made conspiratorial and hostile comments on Israel and Jews; student representatives were criticized for sharing antisemitic, racist, and homophobic tweets; a party member derisively called a Jewish journalist a “Zionist”; and Jewish Labour councillors resigned after saying they’ve been subject to antisemitic abuse.
“I think that if you look at the situation with antisemitism in the Labour Party, it is clear there is a link and that you are seeing more antisemitic incidents,” Holt said. “That’s because it’s more permissible. You can get away with acting in this way.”
Melantha Chittenden, the outgoing national chair of Labour students, warned that such behavior was “stopping Jewish students from being able to go to the campuses they want to or even engage in activities they want to on campus.”
“There needs to be active condemnation and also action plans coming from the party of what we’re going to do,” she urged.
Karen Pollack, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, shared example of antisemitism on campus with “Newsbeat,” pointing to Holocaust-denying leaflets that were found on various UK campuses last year.
“When antisemitism becomes normalized it affects Jews everywhere,” she said. “We expect leaders to understand what is right and what is wrong and to be able to explicitly call it out. That in itself sets an example to other and those that follow them.”
While Labour declined repeated requests for interviews, it told “Newsbeat” in a statement that it “takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously, which are fully investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with our rules and procedures.”
“Labour’s new General Secretary Jennie Formby has made it her first priority to speed up and strengthen our procedures and to develop a programme of political education to create deeper awareness and understanding about all forms of anti-Semitism,” the party said.
Tensions between Labour and the Jewish community escalated in March, following revelations that Corbyn and several Labour members had been part of the Facebook group Palestine Live, which included posts denying the Holocaust and alleging Israeli involvement in the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks. Corbyn also came under fire that month for comments made in 2012 opposing the removal of a London mural that included caricatures criticized as antisemitic. The artist behind the piece acknowledged in 2012 that the bankers in the image are “Jewish and white Anglos,” but rejected claims that he is antisemitic, saying in an op-ed published on the website of conspiracy theorist David Icke that he is merely “anti-capitalist.”
While Corbyn subsequently said he “regrets” his former position on the mural — calling its contents “deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic” — he was condemned by some 1,500 protesters in a rare rally held by British Jewish leaders on March 26, which drew more than a dozen Labour lawmakers.
The Labour leader responded at the time by affirming his rejection of antisemitism and acknowledging that some criticism of Israel employs age-old antisemitic tropes, yet his overtures to the Jewish community have not been entirely well received. In April, he attended a Passover Seder hosted by a small anti-Zionist Jewish group whose haggadah urged guests to “take a moment to consider how sh*t the State of Israel is in general and particularly at the moment.”
Corbyn met weeks later with the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, who in turn called the gathering “a disappointing missed opportunity” and indicated that Corbyn’s proposals to fight antisemitism “fell short of the minimum level of action.”
Jonathan Arkush, the outgoing president of the Board of Deputies, said in May that Corbyn held “antisemitic views” and was making British Jews question whether they have a future in their own country.