Credit: Andy Buchanan

Students claim University ‘trivialises’ antisemitism as new UK findings released

By Luke Chafer and Charlotte Christian

New report reveals allegations of antisemitism within UK university campuses have seen a 23% increase in 2020-22 compared to the previous two-year period. Yet following a Freedom of Information request (FOI) last year, The Glasgow Guardian learned that in the past three years there have only been two reports of antisemitism made by students via the official reporting channels, in both cases no action was taken. Despite this one student informed The Glasgow Guardian that they alone submitted four complaints in this same period. One of these incidents was used as a case study of antisemitism conducted by a member of university staff towards a student in the report.

The report was conducted by the charity, Community Security Trust (CST), a UK charity that advises and represents the Jewish community on matters of antisemitism. Although it revealed a considerable increase in the number of university-related antisemitic hate incidents, CST believes many incidents experienced by students go unreported.

Despite the official figures from the FOI request, one student told The Glasgow Guardian they alone had submitted three official complaints. Students that have spoken to The Glasgow Guardian have said that the University “trivialises” and “makes complaints feel redundant”, this is why official figures are so low and unrepresentative of the actual situation.

Speaking to The Glasgow Guardian, former President of the University Jewish Society, Lucinda Bathie, said that: “Based on my experiences as the president of the Jewish society, and from hearing about the experiences of other Jewish students, I feel that the university does not do enough to support its Jewish students. The University and the student unions made our complaints feel redundant and unimportant, occasionally as if we were to blame. I know that as a result of this very few students felt that it was even worth approaching the university about the antisemitism they had experienced there.”

Of the 150 incidents reported to CST, 5 were perpetrated by staff, one at UofG. The report details an incident at UofG where academic Dr Muir Houston tweeted that he had received an “email from the lobby” following a student journalist’s request for a comment after he had signed a letter in support of the disgraced academic David Miller, who was suspended by the University of Bristol after calling the Jewish society “pawns” of a “foreign regime”. Dr Houston had not been alone in The Glasgow Guardian’s request for comment, all academics at UofG who had signed the letter had been contacted. The CST took issue with Houston’s use of the antisemitic term “the lobby” as “it denied her ability to perform a normal function as a student journalist”, instead implying “her loyalty was to a mysterious power acting for some hidden purpose”. Following a protracted investigation over several months, it was concluded that Dr Houston would not face any formal disciplinary action.

The student then submitted further evidence of in their opinion antisemitic content taken from Dr Houston’s twitter account- in one post Houston stated that former Labour MP Louise Ellman was “at the behest of a foreign power”, deploying another antisemitic trope in a different tweet that Ellman “got her 30 pieces of silver then?”. A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said that the comments breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, adding that the posts warranted “urgent action”. Despite renewed investigation, University Chief Operating Officer, David Duncan explained that the matter had been settled informally and appropriate action had been taken.

The student that made the initial complaint against Dr Muir, Melanie, told The Glasgow Guardian that: “Too much of my time at University has been consumed with dealing with antisemitism. In every case, the University’s reaction has been to trivialise the issues and disregard the safety of Jewish students. Whether this is the result of a wholly inadequate complaints procedure or the University’s apathy towards the wellbeing or both.”

The CST report acknowledges that although an academic’s personal social media use does not directly affect what they teach to students, expressions of antisemitic views outside of the classroom “can potentially affect Jewish students’ confidence that their lecturers or tutors will treat them fairly”. For Jewish staff and students, online spaces proved to be particularly hostile, of the reported 150 incidents, 83 took place online.

Alongside the issues presented by the University reporting procedure, another student told The Glasgow Guardian that they hadn’t reported cases due to the fear of repercussions: “Issues within my first year flat were unreported because one of the people making the comments was an accommodation staff member and I didn’t want to risk my safety in the place I was living, especially when I was uncertain if the person would actually be reprimanded. While I’m lucky to have not faced any antisemitism from professors, I know people who have and have heard about the ways they were invalidated. Antisemitism is often subtle and hard to clearly identify by non-Jews because many don’t believe it even exists. Reporting something that is viewed as ‘non-existing’ often seems like a waste of physical and emotional energy.”

Across UK university campuses, the report detailed cases where investigations have been too often marked by slow responses, a communication breakdown, a lack of impartiality, and a failure to use the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. As CST Chief Executive Mark Gardner stated, “antisemitism at our universities has been a running sore for decades and these new findings show that far too many Jewish students suffer hatred and bias”.

The report puts forward a number of suggestions to help universities develop appropriate and proportionate policies to deal with the complicated nature of university-related antisemitism. In spite of the alarming increase in campus antisemitism exposed by the CST report, Union of Jewish Students President Joel Rosen said: “Jewish students are resilient and won’t let themselves be defined by the prejudice of others”.

A University of Glasgow spokesperson said: “The University of Glasgow is committed to promoting equality and diversity across its community and campus. As part of that commitment, we have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism. The University will not tolerate any form of discrimination and would encourage any members of our community impacted by this issue to use our online reporting tool, so that we can take appropriate action as well as provide advice and support.”


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