How did 2016 unfold for Jewish students?
Original article The Jewish Chronicle
There is no such thing as a year free from campus tension. What has made 2016 unusual, however, is that people other than Jews noticed.
In January, a talk at Kings College London by Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin-Bet, was disrupted by anti-Israel activists who threw chairs and smashed windows.
In October, a talk at UCL by Hen Mazzig, a former IDF officer, was also disrupted.
That both meetings were attacked comes as no particular surprise. What was different was the media coverage these attacks received, which went well beyond the Jewish community.
Similarly, the resignation in February of the (non-Jewish) Chair of Oxford University Labour club, with his allegations of antisemitism which had taken place there, made front- page headlines. It led to an official investigation into the club, which confirmed his statement.
The heightened level of public awareness in 2016 is particularly welcome given that the relationship between Jews on campus and the National Union of Students has been toxified immeasurably by the election of Malia Bouattia as NUS President.
Those who voted for Ms Bouattia in April cannot claim ignorance of her past well-publicised comments about the University of Birmingham being a “Zionist outpost in higher education” with “the largest JSoc in the country”, and about “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets.”
Those who voted for her either agreed with her comments or didn’t care enough about their effect on Jewish students to reconsider.
It would be difficult to overstate the strain this has put on the relationship between the NUS and the Union of Jewish Students. Just two weeks ago, Josh Seitler, President of UJS, criticised Ms Bouattia’s most recent non-apology as “indirect and insincere.”
Nonetheless, despite its current president, Jewish students are not without allies in the NUS. Two vice- presidents of the organisation — Rob Young and Richard Brooks — were at the UJS conference on Sunday.
Delegates voted not to cut all ties with the NUS, and Mr Brooks spoke frankly about the problem of antisemitism within the far-left and the student movement.
Also at conference, Jewish students voted for Josh Holt to be the next President of the UJS; he will take over from Seitler in June.
Given the dominance of the left in university politics, it is easy to focus exclusively on the left-wing antisemitism directed at students.
However, it would be foolish to ignore the resurgent hatred from the right directed at Jewish students.
During the course of the year, National Action, the far-right hate group, targeted the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities by defacing signs and harassing Jewish students online.
The poisonous organisation has been targeting UK campuses with antisemitic hate messages since 2014.
But, again, there is cause for optimism. Just this week, the Home Secretary banned the group under terror laws, making it the first extreme right-wing group in Britain to be proscribed.
So, while Jewish students in the UK will undoubtedly still be targeted by hatred and bigotry from January onwards, they should head into 2017 with greater confidence.