Image: Martin Day / The Boar

In conversation with a Jewish student in the pro-Palestine encampment

The presence of pro-Palestine encampments in UK and US universities has sparked conversations regarding antisemitism on campuses. 

The Boar spoke to a Jewish student staying in the encampment about their experiences and how they have been able to express their religion in the space. This student wished to remain anonymous.

This Jewish student is part of Warwick Kehillah, a group whose Instagram profile says that it is “embracing the Jewish radical tradition of solidarity and anti-zionism”. This group is one of many Kehillahs which have been set up in UK universities, including the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, and the University of Edinburgh.

The student told The Boar that they have felt “really in touch with [their] Judaism, possibly more than before” while being in the encampment.

Recently, a University of Oxford student resigned as vice-president of her college council, saying that: “Jewish people are not welcome on campus.” Aiming to reassure Jewish students at Warwick feeling threatened by the University’s own encampment, this Jewish student said: “There’s a very strict anti-discrimination policy,” and that they, “and none of [their] Jewish peers have experienced any antisemitic discrimination” in the encampment, “as far as [they] know.”

The root of antisemitism is the same as the root of all forms of bigotry and discrimination and it absolutely should not be conflated with a movement for justice and liberation

A Jewish student in the encampment

An Instagram post by Warwick Stands with Palestine reiterated this idea that the encampment does not allow discrimination: photographed was a list of the coalition values, which included a point focusing on Judaism which read: “Zionism is not Judaism. Jewish people are essential members of our bloc”

On 9 May, Rishi Sunak held a meeting with university Vice-Chancellors and the President of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), Edward Isaacs, to discuss how best to combat the rise in university-related antisemitic incidents. In the meeting, vice-chancellors established “red lines with protest organisers”.

Since the summit, UJS has launched a campaign titled “We’ve Had Enough” which is demanding action from universities so that Jewish students are protected. This campaign has received over 2000 signatures.

The Warwick Kehillah, for their part, “is against the UJS conflating Jewish safety with pro-Palestine activists,” because “the root of antisemitism is the same as the root of all forms of bigotry and discrimination, and it absolutely should not be conflated with a movement for justice and liberation.”

There simply isn’t widespread or endemic antisemitism in the encampment

A Jewish student in the encampment survey

The student maintained that “there simply isn’t widespread or endemic antisemitism in the encampment”, adding that they have not experienced antisemitism “in left-wing or pro-Palestine spaces”.

Warwick Jewish Society provided a statement to The Boar which highlighted that: “Jewish students on campus have a wide range of experiences and opinions.” However, it also emphasised that “the experiences of a few students do not invalidate the experiences of the considerable majority of Jewish students on campus,” and argued that, “the establishment of the encampment at Warwick has coincided with an unprecedented rise in the level of antisemitism on campus.”

The rise in university-related antisemitic incidents across the UK this academic year is undeniable; since 7 October, 230 university campus incidents of antisemitism have been recorded by CST. One of these incidents which made headlines was the hijacking of Warwick Jewish Society’s freshers’ group chat, which saw individuals hack the Whatsapp chat and send discriminatory messages.

The need for the protection of Jewish students is further emphasised by a recent UJS survey, where 78% of the 1000 respondents said that they have been victims of casual antisemitism such as stereotyping or offensive comments dressed up as ‘banter’. Furthermore, 82% of respondents were ‘worried’ about antisemitism.

During a single week this term, there were more antisemitic incidents [at the University] than occurred during the entirety of last year

Warwick Jewish Society

Most of these responses – 85% of them – were collected prior to 7 October. This emphasises that the problem of antisemitism at UK universities began before the encampments were set up on campuses. However, it also highlights that the safety of Jewish students was a preexisting concern, one that has been amplified in recent months.

Warwick Jewish Society told The Boar that: “During a single week this term, there were more antisemitic incidents [at the University] than occurred during the entirety of last year.”

In their own interview, the encampment’s Jewish student said: “I think it’s really sad that so many Jewish people are being made to feel afraid on their own university campuses.”

When asked how universities and the government can support Jewish students without infringing on those protesting in the encampments, the Jewish student told The Boar that: “They should reach out to Jewish students as Jewish students, and not as political pawns to be used to advance the agenda which suppresses Palestine advocacy.”

The idea that university Jewish Societies (known as JSocs) and encampments are in opposition with one another has been suggested across the media. This Jewish student contradicted this, saying that: “No one has anything intrinsically against JSocs.” They went on to express their admiration for the community work that Warwick Jewish Society conducts.

We encourage all students to reach out to Jsoc as we can support you both with reporting [antisemitism and Islamophobia] and with signposting to specialised welfare support

Warwick Jewish Society

One message emphasised when looking at Jewish Societies was the argument that Warwick Kehillah does not have the objective of taking away from the work of Warwick Jewish Society and the space that it provides. Instead, it is an “extra space for people who want to have a more progressive political approach to their Judaism, not progressive in that denominational sense”, but more so in the political sense.

The student went on to describe their experiences within the encampment, saying that it is “a really welcoming environment for all people, especially Jewish people”, and that those involved are willing to converse with all, even those “who might still be questioning” their beliefs.

Warwick Jewish Society told The Boar that they stand “firmly against all forms of hatred including antisemitism and Islamophobia.” They also “encourage all students to reach out to Jsoc as [they] can support [them] both with reporting and with signposting to specialised welfare support.”

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