UJS president tells Downing Street meeting of ‘year like no other’ for Jewish students

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UJS president tells Downing Street meeting of ‘year like no other’ for Jewish students

Edward Isaacs outlines the threats and intimidation since 7 October in campuses across UK

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Union of Jewish Students president Edward Isaacs has told a meeting at Downing Street held to discuss campus antisemitism: “This year has been a year like no other for Jewish students.”

Referencing the 7 October Hamas atrocity, he told Rishi Sunak, university vice-chancellors and and other members of the government at the meeting: “For other Jewish students, this marked the point at which their loved ones were kidnapped and taken hostage. Yet, for all Jewish students, this marked the point at which an unprecedented rise in campus antisemitism began, continuing to define an entire year of their university careers.”

Isaacs added: “Since October 7th antisemitic incidents have increased nearly six times, with severity increasing too. Jewish students have received deaths threats, Jewish students have been physically assaulted, and Jewish student property has been damaged.”

He made the speech in front of the prime minister, education secretary Gillian Keegan and some university vice-chancellors at the meeting on Thursday.

He said that since 7 October the UJS  welfare hotline has received hundreds of calls from Jewish students, painting a picture of a climate of fear on campus. Earlier in the year, before any encampments were established, Isaacs said he spoke to Jewish students across several universities about their experiences.

He recalled one said that: “There is so much hate and I have to hide my identity and identifiable things about me for my safety. The university did not act properly.”

Another told Isaacs: “Most of the non-Jewish world seems oblivious to the pain we are going through. I feel isolated and alone and terrified for my community.”

While another student said: “My flat mate broke the news of the war to me and said “700 Israelis dead yaaaay lets go.”

Isaacs also turned to best practice for universities and Vice-Chancellors on how to grip this situation for Jewish students, saying communication was key.

“First, Jewish societies are the legitimate representative voice of Jewish students on each campus and Vice-Chancellors must have effective communications with Jewish student leaders in order to foster trust and good relationships such that Jewish students feel heard,” he said.

“More broadly, universities must have the moral clarity in their leadership to communicate singular condemnations of antisemitism to the entire student body when antisemitic incidents occur.”

He also said education was key and referred to  UJS’ antisemitism awareness training as “core to enabling other students and campus leaders to have the confidence to stand in allyship with Jewish students against antisemitism.”

Isaacs added that while UJS “respect the right to protest, it is important to recognise campus relations will only be improved when university leaders are clear with students on red lines. ”

He added:”For example, to call to ‘globalise the intifada’ is not a meaningless political statement. It is a direct call to spread the sort of violence seen in Israel in the late 1990s and early 2000s which saw random acts of terror against civilians at innocuous locations. Universities have to make this red line clear.”

Isaacs said the vast majority of Jewish students identify as Zionist, and other students must recognise that a Jewish student can be a proud Zionist while also deeply caring about Palestinian human rights.

“While we respect the right to protest, where there are instances of criminality universities must draw upon their relations with police to ensure students see the consequences of their actions,” he added.

“We are also aware that many external non-student nefarious actors are seeking to gain access to campus to cause trouble and harass Jewish students. These individuals must be denied access to campus.”

Isaacs also said  universities must resist attempts by protesters to remove the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

“It is the definition accepted globally and supported by Jewish students. Jewish student representatives must define anti-Jewish racism, and the IHRA definition must be utilised,” he said.

University vice-chancellors summoned to No 10 on Thursday included some from Russell Group universities, including University College London, King’s College London, Cambridge, Birmingham and Leeds, but also Sussex, Goldsmiths and Northumbria.

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