It’s far from all bad on campus, Jewish students tell Archbishop

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It’s far from all bad on campus, Jewish students tell Archbishop

Four Jewish and three Christian undergraduates in historic talks at Lambeth Palace

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Credit: Sorcha Connell
Credit: Sorcha Connell

The Archbishop of Canterbury has held an historic meeting with Jewish and Christian students to learn more about the challenges – and opportunities – they face on campus.

Although the timing was coincidental, the meeting at the Lambeth Palace Library came just a week after a report found the National Union of Students has failed to protect Jewish students from harassment over 17 years during which time it had committed breaches of the Equality Act.

During the conversation with four Jewish and three Christian undergraduates, which was facilitated by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), Justin Welby expressed shock at specific examples of antisemitism faced by students in recent years.

He relayed examples of Jew-hate during his time at university including tropes around power and money, and reflected on how the students’ experiences today focused on discourse around Israel and the Palestinians.

Discussions at Abbott Room at Lambeth Palace Library, January 2023. Credit: Sorcha Connell.

Jodie Franks, the Union of Jewish Students head of programming, told the Archbishop that despite the challenges, “There’s no campus we’d say don’t go to because it’s too dangerous. At Friday night dinners we don’t sit around the table discussing the latest antisemitism figures. We talk about what’s happened during the week.”

She was joined at the event by a representative of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, Connor Perring, who said it sometimes appeared Jewish students were in the line of fire just for being.

But one J-Soc welfare officer at a university with a large Jewish student population said that, while there are some grave incidents he’d been approached about, the overall situation appeared to be “a lot better” this year compared to the last two. He attributed this to the general spike in incidents around the 2020 conflict between Israel and Hamas when, he suggested, some students had been spoiling for a fight and had sought out Jews on campus.

One student, Evie, said she had felt a “hostile environment” from some lecturers when it came to support on catching up on lectures during Shabbat.

Leeds Medical student Amy suggested the students from six campuses nationwide all had positive and negative experiences of campus. The fact that many students in her halls hadn’t previously met a Jew or knew little about Judaism, he said, offered a starting point for positive dialogue that led to her lighting Chanukah candles with them.

The discussion was led by CCJ co-director Georgina Bye, who brought the students together to get to know each other before their hour-long season with Welby. While the Archbishop spent most of the time listening, he also posed questions and his famous sense of humour was never far from the surface.

A senior Church of England official said the Archbishop had been “dismayed” to hear of the challenges facing Jewish students during meetings of the presidents of CCJ over many years and had wanted to hear directly from undergraduates about their experiences.

Richard Sudworth, the Archbishop interfaith advisor, said: “It feels like spirituality and faith are now more of an ok subject. You were seen as a bit of an oddball back in the 80s. But in some areas all people of faith have challenges. That’s why the Archbishop and I want to have this sort of gathering. We want to see Christians who work well with other faiths…and Jewish students to feel safe and secure on campus.”

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