OPINION: Academia, we have an almighty problem

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OPINION: Academia, we have an almighty problem

Hatred of Jews and Israel has infected UK universities and public discourse, writes Alex Brummer for Jewish News

Alex Brummer is a Jewish News columnist and the City Editor, Daily Mail

Pic: UJS
Pic: UJS

There are many more narratives to events in Israel and the Middle East since the barbarism of 7 October than those to which we have been exposed. The natural response of any foreign correspondent is to get to the front and report on the ‘bang-bang’ and avoid going deeper.

Here in Britain there has been a shocking recognition among Jews that a narrative of Israel-hatred, bleeding into virulent anti-Semitism has taken hold.

What is perhaps most disturbing is it has lodged in great liberal institutions, notably our universities. It is no surprise that Jewish students have been targeted on some campuses. As harsh as it is, for those waving children and young friends off to university, that has been the case for decades.

In a way, exposing young people brought up in the relative sheltered early 21st century, to the reality of ancient hatreds and how to use their voices to combat them, could equip them for lives to come. What is unacceptable is when the faculty becomes part of the problem.

There has long been a suspicion on the political right that some university faculties are hotbeds of Marxist dogma. The concern is that the Socialist Workers Party, which demonstrated on behalf of Hamas as the embers of Jewish victims were still burning in October, has infiltrated campuses. At an informal dinner last week, intended to ease the tension for Jewish colleagues from a leading City advisory firm, were several disturbing accounts of affected young people.

Some Jewish parents at Channing school in Highgate had found it necessary to form a WhatsApp group following what they regarded as an inadequate response by the hierarchy to an anti-Semitic daubing.

Alex Brummer

Portrayed as a one off, it clearly exposed a divide between some Jewish students and those with an Islamic background. It was felt the school could have dealt with it better by addressing underlying issues within the school curriculum and by using assemblies to build understanding.

As worrying was an account from an international relations class at Glasgow University. On the day of a major pro-Palestinian demonstration in the city the lecturer informed students that if they wanted to join the protesters they were free to do so. They would be marked as present in the class. Jewish students felt it would be injudicious to object this incitement since the same academic would be marking examinations.

There is a profound ignorance of the arc of radicalism which runs through the Middle-East and how it casts Israel as representatives of colonialism. Sometime ago I wrote in this column of my conversation with my Palestinian dry cleaner who works on one of Kensington’s most genteel streets.

The scion of a Palestinian family, which fled to the Lebanon in 1948, he had told me in the past that he preferred Hamas to Fatah/Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas provided his Palestinian kith and kin with social care services. The PA was corrupt and did nothing for his people.

Now some two months after the unimaginable attacks of 7/10 and accompanied by a non-Jewish colleague I politely enquired if his family were OK. He responded positively noting that everyone in the region was hurting and that Lebanon was a mess.

Tempting fate the next question, was had his mind changed on Hamas? It triggered an angry response. No one should believe that Hamas had killed, raped and tortured 1,200 Jews. It was a conventional military attack and the alleged, ghastly war crimes were the propaganda of the Israeli state.

The videos and films provided to the media and others were the work of the IDF and designed to blacken the reputation of Hamas and allow Israel to bomb Gaza. There was no point in retort: I was pleased to recover my shirts.

The profound ignorance of someone of Palestinian origins, indoctrinated from birth with hatred of Jews and Israel, is disturbing, wrong and terrifying. It shows how impossible it may be for Israel to eradicate a hateful doctrine. What is as troubling is how such views have infected and corrupted UK academia and public discourse.

This year it is going to be so much harder to lift the melancholy as we illuminate the Hanukah lights. But we should make every effort to do so.

  • Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail
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