Jewish student societies forced to use security at social events amid antisemitism concerns

‘Given the conversation at the moment I think we have to be more careful than ever’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Sunday 10 March 2019 17:30 GMT
Figures show a rise in antisemitic incidents at universities
Figures show a rise in antisemitic incidents at universities (PA)

Jewish student societies have been forced to organise their own security at social events amid growing concerns about Holocaust denial and antisemitism on campus, The Independent has learned.

One student society said it runs security checks on all attendees of its events after receiving threats over the past six months.

Another Jewish society keeps the details of non-political events, such as Shabbat dinners, secret. And at one event, the police were enlisted to protect students and the speakers.

The measures that Jewish students have taken to protect themselves have been revealed after figures showed a rise in antisemitic incidents at universities.

Students have made headlines in recent weeks for wearing T-shirts with antisemitic slogans and for antisemitic slurs on WhatsApp.

And last month, hundreds of students opposed the creation of a Jewish society at Essex university, triggering an antisemitism row.

Gabe Milne, president of the Jewish Society at Sheffield University, believes antisemitism on campus is on the rise.

He told The Independent: “We have to keep the locations of our events secret and run security screenings on all attendees to those events as we’ve received credible threats over the last six months. This is in addition to a huge amount of abusive messages on social media.”

In November, the society condemned a group of students that invited Labour MP Chris Williamson, who has now been suspended over antisemitism, to speak at the university.

Emma Jacobs, former campaigns officer of the Jewish Society at the University of Leeds, believes antisemitic rhetoric has increased due to a lack of sanctions on campus – and in the Labour Party.

The society keeps room bookings secret and security is organised for non-political events, like Shabbat dinner, to keep students safe from potential attacks on campus, she told The Independent.

Last year, they had to work with the police to protect a high-profile Israeli speaker and students.

Ms Jacobs said: “Sadly I think Jewish students have always been at some degree at risk. But given the conversation at the moment I think we have to be more careful than ever.”

The second-year student has seen Holocaust denial remarks and abuse targeted at young Jewish activists on social media.

“There aren’t sufficient sanctions being put in place, whether that is on campus or in the Labour party, for people who are sharing antisemitic rhetoric. So I think people feel like now they can.”

Ms Jacobs added: “I think it is incredibly sad that to practise our faith on campus we feel we are in a position where we need to even think about getting security. It is done from a place of genuine risk.

“We are normal students trying to live our lives. We shouldn’t have to be fighting for our right to be safe. Everyone else has that – why don’t we?”

The latest report from the Community Security Trust (CST) found that antisemitic incidents towards Jewish students, academics or other student bodies at universities rose from 21 to 25 in 2018.

In a recent blog on Jewish News, Daniel Kosky, campaigns organiser for the Union of Jewish Students (UoJ), called the rise in recorded incidents of antisemitism on campus “concerning”.

He wrote: “The ignorance and invitation to preach hate at a handful of campuses must be met with a forceful response.”

Security presence at Jewish buildings has increased over recent years as a result of high levels of concern from the Jewish community about terrorism and government funding for security, a CST report says.

“Security arrangements are standard across the Jewish community, whether it relates to Jewish schools, synagogues or one-off events, and we see campus as an extension of that,” Dave Rich, head of policy at CST, said.

A UoJ spokesperson told The Independent: “It is a sad fact of Jewish life that we often require security at our synagogues, schools and campus events.”

They added: “For higher profile events where protests or disruption can be expected, we work with CST, campus security and sometimes the police to take every possible precaution.”

“Not publicly advertising event locations is just one of the careful precautions we take to ensure Jewish students’ safety on campus.”

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A National Union of Students spokesperson said: “Jewish societies should not have to meet in secret.

“Where there are concerns, universities and students’ unions should work with their Jewish students to address them, including clear action on antisemitism on campus whenever it occurs.”

A Universities UK spokesperson added: “Universities are taking steps to ensure that students feel comfortable reporting incidents of antisemitism and harassment and that institutions respond effectively to such reports.

“We would always encourage any student who feels unsafe to raise this with their institution.”

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