‘Jewish Students Must Not Be Held to Account’ for Mideast Violence, Says British Group, as Wave of Antisemitism Rocks Universities
Jewish students at universities in United Kingdom are being “targeted” in a wave of antisemitism, according to a leading Jewish student group, as the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to give new pretext for acts of hatred.
“The Union of Jewish Students is disgusted that Jewish students and societies are being targeted on campus,” a spokesperson for the group, which represents Jewish students and societies in the UK and Ireland, told The Algemeiner. “There is never an excuse for antisemitism, and it is not the answer to increased hostilities in the Middle East and Jewish students must not be held to account for this.”
Antisemitic harassment and intimidation in the UK increased “fivefold” during the conflict, according to the nonprofit Community Security Trust (CST), which works to secure Jewish communities. Recent news reports of specific incidents have added painful, personal accounts to those figures.
On Friday, The Times reported, a social media user told Lucinda Bathie of Glasgow University in Scotland to “go and gas yourself.”
“My friends and I remove anything that makes us visibly Jewish,” she told the outlet. “In December 2019, I was wearing my Star of David necklace at the customer service desk at my work and a man approached me with [a] bunch of avocados and said, ‘I don’t want these, they’re from Israel you dirty Jew.’”
“These are longstanding attitudes,” Bathie said, “but they have become worse in recent weeks.”
At Nottingham University, student Rachel Coussins also said she was no longer comfortable wearing her Star of David on campus, the Times reported.
Monitoring discussions of the Gaza conflict on social media, she experienced intense fear after seeing internet memes promoting conspiracies about Jews. Some accused Israel of “being a state established to extract oil” and committing a second Holocaust.
“There have been moments when I’ve been genuinely terrified,” she said.
Coussins was also called a “deluded Zionist rat” and “slut for Zionism” for sharing an Instagram post that called for addressing both “antisemitic discrimination alongside the distress of Palestinians.”
Jews who are English have been wrongly caught in the fray of a conflict that doesn’t involve them, she said: “It’s not my job as a Jew to answer for Israel. I live in England. I’m an English student.”
The UJS spokesperson told The Algemeiner that the group is no “working closely with our over 70 Jewish Societies to put pressure on universities across the UK to tackle antisemitism on their campuses, both in the immediate and long term.”
“We are also working with students’ unions to provide training to raise awareness of how antisemitism may manifest and to educate them on what steps they can be taking to support their Jewish students, during the current climate,” the group added, urging universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, as well as recommendations put forward by the CST.
At the Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL) campus, two people taped on the entrances of campus facilities posters depicting the Israeli flag with the Star of David replaced with a swastika, according to a report by Jewish News.
“Opposition to the Israeli government’s does not justify these acts of bigotry, just as Islamist violence does not justify Islamophobic bigotry,” the RHUL Jewish Society said in a statement. “Royal Holloway has garnered a reputation of being a liberal, diverse, and welcoming university, yet these images and experiences make Jewish students feel more and more as if that doesn’t apply to them.”
The Tab reported on an Instagram group-chat, titled “Hamas recruitment committee,” to which female Jewish university students in the UK were added and were then harassed.
“What’s happening to [Jewish students] is quite terrifying,” Rabbinic Head of the University Jewish Chaplaincy Rabbi Harvey Belovski told The Times. “Some have left campus. They find themselves effectively pariahs.”
Jewish students at Sheffield Hallam University in South Yorkshire have expressed similar feelings, and passed a motion Sunday to declare that antisemitism is the product of racism, not Israeli policy.
“Jews are not responsible for the bad behavior of some Jews. Antisemitism is never a rational response to bad behavior of some Jews,” the motion held. “People who understand the world in an antisemitic way are responsible for their own antisemitism.”