The city of Manchester in England has just finished hosting another of those tiresome events where the Jewish state is compared to apartheid South Africa and students are urged to boycott Israeli products. A spokesperson even found time to be interviewed by Iran’s notorious Press TV.
The event was organized by UK Student Palestine Conference and it was an opportunity to gather students from dozens of UK universities. Apparently, the conference was a chance for students to go “beyond just being members of our Palestinian solidarity group and become change-makers – on campus and across Britain.”
Manchester is home to Britain’s second-largest Jewish population. But Manchester is also home to a large Muslim population and a huge student base. Together they have contributed to a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment, particularly in the city center’s university district.
Although I live and work in Manchester, I try to avoid the university area as much as possible. Buildings and bus shelters are regularly plastered with pro-Gaza posters. Palestinian flags hang from the windows of houses. Anti-Israel events are advertised around the campus. It is no surprise, then, that Jewish students in Manchester have long spoken of an atmosphere of intimidation.
After all, this is the city where Talya Lador-Fresher, Israel’s deputy ambassador to Britain, was forced to seek refuge after speaking to members of Manchester University’s politics society in 2010. Dozens of protestors gathered around her car, some of whom jumped on the bonnet and tried to smash the windscreen.
Manchester was also the scene of a distressing anti-Israel rally in 2009, an event so poisonous in its anti-Semitism that even some hardened left-wingers complained of the event being hijacked by the Muslim Association of Britain.
But anti-Jewish sentiment is not just confined to campuses in Manchester. Universities across Britain have been infected by Israelophobia. This is hardly surprising when academics push for economic and cultural boycotts of Israel, and students are permitted to invite anti-Semitic speakers, such as Hezbollah representative Ibrahim Mousawi, and Abu Usamah, a radical Muslim cleric who has defended Osama bin Laden.
Several years ago, three Jewish students publicly resigned from leading positions in the National Union of Students in protest against the distribution of anti-Semitic literature on campuses. The Union of Jewish Students called for a national inquiry. Since then, things have got worse, not better.
Take Israel Apartheid Week for example. This is when campuses in Britain (and around the world) are buzzing with anti-Zionist sentiment. As well as the erection of “apartheid” walls, bizarre street theatre and anti-Israel music events, pro-Palestinian activists have been known to harass or even attack Jewish students, who are helpless to stop these proceedings. But as Electronic Intifada boasts, “the failure of pro-Israel activists to detract from our activities in any meaningful way should be seen as a further sign that the debate on UK campuses is now happening very much on our terms.”
On British campuses, Jewish students are sometimes referred to as “Nazis” or are taunted by activists who praise Hitler and the gas chambers. Earlier this year, a Jewish student, who was filming a man making obscene references to the Holocaust, was punched and bitten by a Muslim activist. When the assailant was acquitted in court, Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists shouted “Zionists always lose.” This is the depths to which academic life in Britain has sunk.
Indeed, the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, has spoken of the intimidation of Jewish students in Britain as “part of a long, slow, insidious process intended to undermine academic freedom and it must not be tolerated.”
Regrettably, it will be tolerated as long as academics and opinion-formers in the media continue to promote Palestinianism, a nasty anti-Semitic ideology which refers to the founding of Israel as an apartheid state built upon a “disaster” (“nakba”).
Palestinianism is very popular in the UK. Advocates are in the business of delegitimization, defamation and discrimination. Palestinian victimhood is exaggerated and fetishized, terrorism is excused and the Palestinian leadership (past and present) exonerated of any historical or contemporary accountability. In contrast, Israeli Jews are portrayed as imperialist bullies with no historical connection to the land of Israel or Jerusalem.
As things stand, the political will to protect Jewish students from the effects of this obsessional and reactionary ideology does not exist. Instead of protecting their Jewish students, academics and student unions are too busy pursuing the Palestinian agenda by promoting boycotts and divestments.
Jewish students are entitled to live and study without being harassed or called Nazis. They should also be allowed to celebrate their love for Israel without being intimidated or attacked. University managers have a duty to make campuses safe for everyone, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation.
So, no more hiding behind the bulwark of free speech. No more anti-Semitic speakers on campus. No more intimidation. No more bland and ineffectual statements about racism. A robust and unambiguous response to the problem of anti-Semitism on campuses is required, and it is required now.