UK’s ambassador insists British universities not nests of antisemitism
Gould fights back against Israeli perception of British universities as anti-Semitic, anti-Israel.
By Herb Keinon, JPost
July 4, 2012
British campuses are not as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel as they are popularly portrayed and perceived in the Jewish state, and Israeli students should go study there, British Ambassador Matthew Gould said Tuesday.
Gould, in a Tel Aviv briefing with journalists, lamented that the number of Israelis opting to study in the UK was dropping, with one of the main reasons being a feeling that the campuses there were hostile to Jews and Israelis.
Currently, he said, there are only 680 Israeli students at the more than 100 British campuses, a decline from previous years.
Gould said that in Israel the British universities were suffering from “reverse deligitimization,” with “all British universities tarred with the same brush, and genuine problems of a few universities [wrongly] described as problems with them all.”
In recent years there have been numerous reports of British universities spearheading boycotts of Israel, and of Jewish and pro-Israel students on certain campuses being harassed or intimidated into silence. For instance, an online survey conducted between October 2010 and February 2011 among 9,229 students across the UK by the National Union of Students found that 31 percent of Jewish respondents said they had been victims of a “religiously-prejudiced incident” at their institution.
While not denying that there were isolated instances of anti-Semitism on campus, Gould said the true picture was much different than the one portrayed in Israel. That image, he said, prompted an Israeli grandmother to tell him that she did not want her granddaughter to study at a British school because she was concerned about the girl’s safety. In reality, he said, there were a total of two incidents of violent anti-Semitism on British campuses in 2011.
“I have been with senior Israelis who say it is not safe to defend Israel in British universities, and that is wildly exaggerated,” he said. “The message I am trying to give is that there are problems in a half-dozen universities, but at the same time there are 100 universities in the UK, and in the vast majority the student body has more important things to deal with than the Middle East,” he said.
Gould declined to mention the names of the few problematic campuses.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on Britain to stop anti-Israel activities on British universities, during a meeting this week in London with his British counterpart William Hague.
European Jewish Union (EJU)
28 May 2012
“A clear message must be conveyed to British universities, that there is no room for appeasing and pacifying small, vocal groups that threaten violence at the expense of the rights of Israelis to freely express their opinions on the campuses,” Lieberman told the British minister.
At the meeting the two ministers discussed bilateral issues, including increasing Israel-UK cooperation, the situation in the Middle East and the negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program held in Baghdad between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 nations (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany).
“The Iranians are trying to project a more pleasant and calm atmosphere at the talks, but their goal is still the same: to obtain military nuclear capability,” Lieberman said.
Although the sanctions are having some effect, they are not enough to bring about a genuine change in the situation. All one has to do is pay attention to the negative Iranian intervention in every possible place in the Middle East, Liberman said.
Regarding the Middle East peace process, Britain’s Foreign Minister said that “continued illegal settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is harming Israel’s international standing and endangering the two state solution”.
In a statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Wednesday following his meeting with Lieberman, Hague said that Britain is concerned about the “current stalemate” in the Middle East peace process and that there is an urgent need for progress.
“I made clear the UK’s concern about the current stalemate in the Middle East peace process, and our view that there is an urgent need for progress. I reiterated our unswerving support for a lasting two state solution to the conflict that achieves a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian State, based on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem the future capital of both states, and a fair settlement for refugees, and our readiness to work with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to bring that about”.
For his part, Lieberman stressed that “even if we would agree to divide Jerusalem and return to the last centimeter of the 1967 lines, the result would be the same as the results of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip: rockets and terrorism aimed at Israel.”
“ The ones who are refusing to negotiate a just, sustainable agreement are the Palestinians. The Palestinian side under Abu Mazen’s leadership is not a negotiating partner,” the Israeli Minister added.
Lieberman also briefed his counterpart about the recent changes in Israel politics resulting from the addition of Kadima to the government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is an opportunity to address issues of vital importance to Israeli society, like secular-religious relations, the economy, governance, the role of minorities in society and illegal immigration,” said Lieberman.
He expressed his hope that this government would be the first in history to reach a full term.
During his London visit, Lieberman also met British Jewish leaders. He addressed an event hosted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) during which he said that “diaspora Jews should support Israel’s government regardless of its political complexion”.
He that Jews who organised a petition against his visit were a legitimate part of the debate about the future of Israel. “But my personal view is that Jews around the world should be loyal to the Israeli government.”
“My expectation from all Jewish communities around the world is that they support any Israeli government. It doesn’t matter if you have a left government or a right government.”
During his visit, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators waving Israeli flags faced off with pro-Palestinian groups protesting the visit, in London’s predominantly Jewish Hendon neighborhood, The Jewish Chronicle reported. The British Israel Coalition had called for the pro-Israel demonstration.
Key findings from the 2011 National Jewish Student Survey
David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, Institute for Jewish Policy Research
Experiences of and feelings towards Israel
The majority (92%) of respondents have visited Israel; indeed, 12% have lived there for more than one year, and a quarter (25%) has visited the country on more than ten occasions. Of the 8% who have never been to Israel (a proportion which is in line with findings from other surveys), the vast majority (83%) hope to visit one day.
Respondents were asked whether they plan to move to Israel in the near future. This is the ‘most preferred path’ for 8.5% of the respondents (N=925) and a further 9% said this is their ‘second most preferred path’.
As noted most respondents (72%) agree that being Jewish is about ‘Supporting Israel’. When asked about their attitudes towards Israel, half (51%) said they have ‘Very positive’ feelings towards Israel and a further 38% have ‘Fairly positive’ feelings; only 11% of NJSS respondents are either negative or ambivalent about Israel.
These results are in stark contrast to comparable data from the general student population. [M]ost students (63%) in the general population simply have no feelings either way about Israel. Further, of the minority (37%) that do have an opinion, half (49%) has positive feelings and half (51%) has negative feelings.
Indeed, just 4% of the general student population harbours ‘very negative’ feelings about Israel. Returning to the Jewish sample, it is instructive to explore the difference between those who are very positive towards Israel and those who are less positive. Attitudes towards Israel were explored in great detail in JPR’s Israel Survey 2010 and this noted a clear, positive relationship between attitudes and self-defined religious position.
The same relationship is evident in the NJSS sample [which] shows that feelings towards Israel go hand in hand with religiousness. This relationship was also present with regards to Jewish upbringing, current Jewish position and Jewish consciousness.
The more involved respondents have been with a Jewish youth movement, the more likely they are to have positive feelings towards Israel. 55% of those who have ‘regularly’ attended a Jewish youth movement (which are mostly Zionist) are ‘very positive’ about Israel, compared with 40% of those who have never attended these. Similar trends can be seen with respect to youth programme involvement. (Note the direction of cause and effect cannot be determined in this table.)
Israel on campus
Communal discussion about students’ experiences at university often focus on the way in which Israel is portrayed on British campuses, in particular the perception of significant anti-Israel sentiment. This issue was explored in both the quantitative and qualitative parts of the survey, and the following quotes provide insights into the situation from the perspective of the students themselves.
“Yes, so we have an Israel Week at university. […] and it’s completely apolitical and it’s supposed to be nothing, but just to show Israel in a good light. […] showing the achievements of Israel, in communications and electronics, so it’s just to show what Israel can offer. And so we obviously get people passing, coming out and trying to give us grief, and there was one guy who was saying that he was going to offer, going to give aid to Gaza in a couple of month’s time, […] and he was just having a complete rant about Israel, and we were having a completely apolitical week.”
“When I walk onto […] campus, the first thing … you come in through the entrance and then the first notice board is the teachers’… not the student union, like the university lecturers’ union, their notice board… and it’s basically taken up by a big poster saying something like ‘boycott settlement in Palestine,’ and I feel it every time I walk into university … Even if Jews agree with the message, the assumption is that they don’t, and so we are all made to feel uncomfortable … Every time I walk into uni, I feel I’m being punched in the face …” (Richard)
“In my university, actually anti-Israel [activity], I don’t think I’ve ever seen, but I think because the community of Jews isn’t… or Zionists isn’t big enough, we’re not so worried. People aren’t going to attack us, because technically, I guess we’re not really there to be attacked. We aren’t doing anything they could regard as provoking. Just having coffee [with the JSoc]. So, I never notice posters, no nothing.” (Michelle)
“I’m going to Israel with my dad in September, and I told my [non-Jewish] friends, and they’re like, oh, are you going to pray? No, actually, I’m going to go off-road biking and stuff like that. You can actually do that? Is that what you do in Israel? They imagine Israel being this place of really, really observant Jews, just always praying by the [Western] Wall and stuff like that, and they were so shocked to hear about what I was going to be doing.” (Claire)
“First, I’d start by saying that the [Jewish media] is doing a huge disservice to the Jewish community in its campus coverage of Israel related issues. I think that [the Jewish media] portrays Israel, Jewish students, it portrays life for Jewish students as a chore, constantly battling to help Israel’s survival. It’s just simply not the case. In reality, the amount of Jewish students who campaign for Israel is 1%, if that, probably less.” (Phil)
Survey respondents were asked how often the topic of Israel arises in various university contexts. The most common context is in clubs and societies with half (50%) saying that the topic arises ‘regularly’ or ‘occasionally’. 44% said that the topic arises ‘regularly’ or ‘occasionally’ in the Students Union. Interestingly, in both of these contexts, almost a quarter of respondents do not know how often the topic arises.
However, in contrast to the NJSS sample, data from the general student population paint a very different picture. The general student sample is far less aware of the topic of Israel arising in any context at university: just 11% reported that the topic arises ‘regularly’ or ‘occasionally’ in the Students Union, compared with 44% reported by NJSS respondents. Both samples were also asked how fairly they feel the topic of Israel is dealt with when it does arise in these various contexts. The results …show that many Jewish students simply do not know whether the topic of Israel is treated fairly or otherwise. For example, although 38% of respondents feel that Israel is treated unfairly in their Students Union, 37% do not know either way.
A similar picture emerges regarding ‘clubs and societies’. However, among the National Benchmark sample, a very different picture emerges. Students in the general population are far less likely to consider that Israel is dealt with unfairly in each of the contexts examined.
NJSS respondents were asked the extent to which they are ‘worried or concerned’ about ‘Anti-Israel sentiment’ at their university. Relatively few (8%) said they are ‘very worried’, but a further 30% said they are ‘fairly worried’. However, compared with other student concerns, such as passing exams or finding a job, worries about anti-Israel sentiment rank quite low.
In the course of conducting the focus groups discussions, something of a contradiction emerged. On the one hand, students are well aware of the tensions surrounding the topic of Israel on campus, and many give the impression that Israel could not be discussed in any way without attracting some form of criticism.
However, on the other hand, respondents are equally keen to point out that any trouble in this regard could be easily avoided by Jewish students who are not particularly interested in the issues, and that only a small minority of students (on both sides of any debate) are actively involved in such encounters. Furthermore, several are quick to point out that, in over-emphasizing anti-Israel incidents at universities in Britain, the Jewish press sometimes conveys a rather unrealistic and overly negative image of life for Jewish students on campus.
Experiences of antisemitism on campus
Antisemitism continues to be a significant issue on campus, but it is also quite subtle and complex. Some of the experiences witnessed by respondents are interpreted as being unambiguously antisemitic, but others are less black and white, especially if it is clear that comments are being made out of ignorance rather than malice.
The following selection of comments from the focus groups provides an initial flavour of respondents’ experiences.
“I haven’t experienced antisemitism. I know a lot of people at uni who I’ve made friends with had never met a Jew before. You do get the odd comment about money, and I think you have to laugh along with it. They don’t mean it in any bad way, and we’re friends, and you just accept it and get on with it. I think you can make a big deal out of something…everyone, you make comments about, everyone has stereotypes.” (Sarah)
“If he [my friend] is making comments, I’ll make comments back, as a joke, and then when someone starts to talk about Palestine, then we can laugh. But I once went to a club where I showed my ID and I’ve got a Jewish [sur]name, and then they were joking, where’s the number on your arm? And, I just left and took my money back […]. And that wasn’t funny.” (Adrian)
“I was actually with a tutor and we were playing a ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ game, which involved electronics on a Friday night [sic] and he happened to know I was Jewish. This is a class of about 100 people. He turned to me and said ‘I looked up the times, so you’re okay until about 3:50, 4 o’clock is it this week?’ And I said yes, […] he’d actually taken the effort to consider whether I could do this and how much of it I could do, which I thought was above and beyond the call of duty really.” (Ed)
In the context of discussions about Israel, it is often unclear to students whether criticism is purely political or whether it has antisemitic undertones. Examples of students grappling with where the line should be drawn are included below:
“Like, people work themselves up [about Israel], but it’s never really… yes, it’s good to have the debate and things like that, and it’s good that people are passionate and they’re getting involved but there’s never really anything serious. There’s never really any… whether or not it’s antisemitic, you never know. It’s difficult to tell. It’s certainly anti-Israel, but you think there might be something in it, but who knows?” ( Jeremy)
“We had an Israel Awareness Week been going on, and then someone came up to us and said, we were talking to someone, and he goes, you’re a Jew. And, I said, yes. He goes, well, I’m not talking to you about this then, on the basis that because I’m Jewish, I’m automatically really proIsrael, and I thought that was quite… because it’s
a false generalization, so one of the old antisemitic stereotypes is accusing Jews of having more allegiance to the Jewish people or to Israel than to their own country, […]” (Andy)
“I’ve had the odd slogan shouted at me on the way home from shul, like ‘You Jew!’, but in uni, it’s generally just posters up, like [Israel] apartheid but what you’ve got to do is take them down, and your problem is solved.” (Rob)
The quantitative survey found that just over two out of five (42%) respondents reported either having witnessed, and/or having being subjected to antisemitism in the seven months prior to the NJSS (i.e. since the beginning of the 2010-11 academic year) . Almost one in three (32%) respondents have witnessed something they regarded as antisemitic, and one in five (20%) respondents reported that they have personally been subjected to antisemitism in the same time period. [T]he data are roughly comparable with the results obtained in JPR’s 2011 Israel Survey on the same topic. Although NJSS respondents do not appear to report quite as high levels, it should be noted that their responses relate to a seven month rather than a twelve month period.
Respondents are more likely to have witnessed antisemitism rather than been subjected to it with the exception of antisemitism ‘From an individual student’ (13%). A relatively high proportion of respondents reported witnessing antisemitism in
university ‘clubs and societies’ (13%), though very few were subjected to antisemitism in this context.
A similar pattern is noticeable with respect to the ‘Student Union’. The all encompassing ‘In another context’ is also notable for the relatively high proportion of respondents witnessing (13%) and being subjected to (10%) antisemitism.
[Antisemitism and Jewish identity
The survey] suggests a relationship exists between one’s experience of antisemitism and one’s consciousness of being Jewish, i.e. the more conscious students are of their Jewishness the more likely they are to report having experienced antisemitism. For example, 47% of those who are ‘extremely conscious’ of being Jewish had witnessed or been subjected to an incident they regarded as antisemitic during the academic year, compared with 32% of those who are ‘aware of their Jewishness but little more’. (It should be noted, however, that there is no clear relationship between experience of antisemitism and Jewish practice.)
Similarly, the more positive students feel about Israel, the more likely they are to report having experienced antisemitism. For example, 48% of those who feel ‘very positive’ about Israel say they have experienced antisemitism at university, compared with 37% of those who feel ‘fairly positive’.
[T]he regional picture shows the extent to which antisemitism has been experienced by respondents and how concerned they are about it. Regionally, respondents in Scotland are the most likely to report having experienced some form of antisemitism—over half (52%) have witnessed and/or been subjected to antisemitism. By contrast, a third (33%) of respondents studying in London has experienced antisemitism. Respondents studying in the Northwest are the most likely to have been subjected to antisemitism (29%).
However, it is also apparent that experience of antisemitism does not directly correlate with concern about it. Overall, very few respondents report being ‘very worried’ (4%) about antisemitism, although 17% report being ‘fairly’ worried about it. Whilst students in Scotland report experiencing the most antisemitism, they are actually the third least concerned about it (20% are very or fairly worried) of the six regions. Similarly, although almost half (48%) of respondents in the ‘Southern + Wales’ region have experienced antisemitism, just 8% are ‘very’ or ‘fairly worried’ about it. On the other hand, in London, where 33% have experienced antisemitism, 21% are ‘very’ or ‘fairly worried’. The exception is the North-west where a relatively high level of experience (49% have witnessed and or been subjected to antisemitism) is matched by a relatively high level of concern (31% of Northwest respondents are ‘very’ or ‘fairly worried’ about it).
The discrepancy appears to be related to the fact that concern about antisemitism closely correlates with the size of the Jewish population at an institution. In general, the larger the Jewish population, the more likely respondents are to report being concerned about antisemitism. Interestingly, the size of an institution’s Jewish population does not appear to be related to experience of antisemitism.
Looking ahead: Worries and concerns
Taking on new responsibilities and making life decisions for the first time can be daunting. Students’ ‘worries and concerns’ have been referred to several times in this report, especially with respect to personal relationships, the topic of Israel on campus, and antisemitism. However, in the broad scheme of things, Israel and antisemitism appear to be of relatively low concern to students compared with other issues. [T]wo such issues stand out above all others—‘Passing exams’ (a worry for over threequarters (76%) of respondents) and ‘Finding a job after university’ (a worry for over two-thirds (68%) of the sample).
Indeed, the most striking aspect… is the relative lack of concern about antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment. For example, students are half as likely to express any concern about ‘Anti-Israel sentiment at university’ (38%) as they
are about ‘Passing exams’ (76%). ‘Antisemitism at university’ is of even less concern in relative terms—21% are ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ concerned about this, i.e. Jewish students are twice as likely to be worried about ‘Living up to parent’s expectations’ (41%) and ‘Relationship issues’ (47%) as they are about antisemitism. Nevertheless, antisemitism is clearly a problem at university and one that merits attention.
Overall, third years are the most worried about finding a job (75%) and first years are the least worried (60%), a reflection of a more general pattern showing that students’ worries in this regard increase as they advance through university towards life in the wider world. It should also be noted that female respondents are more likely to be worried about each of the items listed than male respondents. Indeed, 61% of all female respondents are ‘very worried’ about at least one of the items listed in Figure 66, compared with 46% of male respondents.
When the key concerns of the NJSS sample are compared with those of the general student population clear differences emerge. Overall, Jewish students exhibit a greater propensity to be worried in general than the wider student population. In particular, Jewish students appear to be more concerned about ‘Passing exams’ than ‘Finding a job’; in the general student population the opposite is true. Jewish students are twice as worried about ‘Relationship issues’ as students in general, but far less worried about ‘Paying off financial debts’. They are also more likely to be worried about ‘Living up to parents’ expectations’, ‘Feeling lonely’, their ‘Personal health’, ‘Antisemitism/racism’, and local ‘Crime’.