OPINION: University of Edinburgh JSoc’s fight against hostile campus protests

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OPINION: University of Edinburgh JSoc’s fight against hostile campus protests

How the fastest-growing Jewish society in the UK is responding to the challenges faced by Jewish students in higher education in the wake of the Gaza war.

Edinburgh University 2024
Edinburgh University 2024

Since October 7, regular anti-Israel protests on the University of Edinburgh (UoE) campus have increasingly spilled over into casual, and sometimes targeted, anti-semitism.

Jewish students have felt intimidated and fearful. UoE security has been increased for all on-campus events and there is an increased reliance on CST. Against this backdrop, I am pleased to say that the UoE Jewish society continues to grow and thrive in a spirit of mutual support.

It has now become the norm to hear chants calling for a ‘Global Intifada’; to be sitting in lectures whilst activists burst in shouting: “Join us otherwise you are complicit in a genocide!”

To be studying in the library and hear the chants “from the river to the sea” in the lobby. To be eating lunch in the student union whilst students and even lecturers scream that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’. The student branch of the Edinburgh Socialist Worker’s Party posted a statement, still on their page, stating that their support for Hamas remains ‘unconditional’.

UoE JSoc president, Elie Glaser, was recently interviewed by The Student, an independent newspaper run by UoE students. She articulated the fears of Jewish students, giving examples of many removing their Stars of David, not wearing their kippahs and avoiding wearing clothes adorned with Hebrew words.

The subsequent online backlash was so horrific that comments on the newspaper’s Instagram page had to be disabled. In addition, UoE’s Justice for Palestine Society (EUJPS) levelled a charge of ‘selective outrage’ against the newspaper, along with an assertion that UoE funds were being used ‘to commit genocide’ in Gaza.

University of Edinburgh

Particularly disappointing is that The Islamic Society is refusing to collaborate with JSoc on interfaith events, and the Feminist Society posted on Instagram glorifying October 7. Also disturbingly, Jewish students are aware that their professors and lecturers are ‘liking’ anti-semitic posts on their Twitter (X) accounts.  Some have also reported being spat at whilst walking past pro-Palestine demonstrators.

It has now become the norm to hear chants calling for a ‘Global Intifada’; to be sitting in lectures whilst activists burst in shouting: “Join us otherwise you are complicit in a genocide!”

However, the unprecedented rise in antisemitic incidents on campus has fostered a new solidarity amongst Jewish students. It is heartening that the JSoc committee, our chaplains Eliran and Ayalah Shabo and all members, have come together and have committed to ensure a safe space for Jewish students.

University of Edinburgh, 2024

At a Scotland-wide student Friday night dinner in December, more than 200 students travelled from Glasgow, Stirling, Aberdeen, Dundee and St Andrews. Speeches from Lord Mann and UJS President Edward Isaacs provided clarity and comfort that we are being listened to and supported.

The Scottish Conservatives, Labour Party and SNP have also reached out to Elie to see how they can support Jewish students on campus. Meetings have been very positive.

Elie and her committee have also ensured that a number of events happen each week, thereby creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for over 400 JSoc members, a number which has doubled in the past two years.

Regular protests outside the library, University of Edinburgh

Freshers can benefit from being allocated to a ‘student family’ and enjoy regular Friday night dinners with buddies in second, third and fourth years. There are also welfare coffee mornings, bagel lunches and soon to be yoga socials and charity football matches. We also have the JSoc Ball to look forward to.

The late Denis MacEoin, an UoE alumni and Middle East expert, once said of anti-Israel hatred, “it permits itself no boundaries in the lies and myths it pours out”.  Whilst we know that we cannot control the current anti-Israel hatred on campus, we can control how we choose to respond.

We have come together as a society to pray for peace. We host silent vigils outside The Scottish Parliament for those we have lost and for those who are still held hostage.  Our greatest response has been to unify with a greater sense of identity and a resolve that we will not give in to intimidation.

  • Amelia Barzilay, former secretary, University of Edinburgh JSoc
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