Anti-Semitism on university campuses must not be ignored
As a proud British Jewish MP, I never imagined that I would live at a time when I and the Jewish community would question whether Britain is a safe place for Jews anymore.
In the past two weeks, the people of Israel and Gaza have been beset by violence yet again, amid an escalation of tensions between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas.
Yet while this conflict is unfolding thousands of kilometres away in the Middle East, furore has erupted online and within the cities of our country.
In my constituency of Harlow, swastikas were graffitied on walls in a public walkway
Devastatingly, and in part as a result of uninformed mistruths being spread in rash social media posts by celebrities and other ‘influencers’ who have very little knowledge of the issues on the ground, we have seen a spate of antisemitic incidents play out on our streets here in Britain.
Over the weekend, many in the Jewish community have been horrified by the antisemitic activities that have taken place at the hands of opportunistic racist thugs.
In Chigwell in Essex, Rabbi Rafi Goodwin was hospitalised after being attacked outside his synagogue, and in my constituency of Harlow, swastikas were graffitied on walls in a public walkway.
In London, a convoy of cars draped in Palestinian flags drove through Finchley Road and Golders, both areas with large Jewish populations, shouting the vilest antisemitic abuse and threatening sexual violence through a megaphone.
Through these incidents, the thin veneer between anti-Zionism and Antisemitism has been exposed.
Why is it that these racists feel so suddenly emboldened?
As a proud British Jewish MP, I never imagined that I would live at a time when I and the Jewish community would question whether Britain is a safe place for Jews anymore. Sadly, it is why I felt obliged to raise the issue in light of recent events as an Urgent Question in the House of Commons this week.
A large part of the public commotion on this subject revolves around social responsibility of the individual.
I urge readers who aren’t Jewish to recognise that this is an incredibly difficult climate to be a British Jew, and to pause and reflect before hopping onto a bandwagon and engaging in social media activity. Glossy, emotive viral memes about ‘freedom fighters’ mislead the general public from the incontrovertible reality that Hamas is a genocidal extreme Islamist terror group with advanced military capabilities.
This tidal wave of misinformation online demonstrates a severe lack of education about antisemitism. Education is one of the most powerful tools we have for tackling racism.
We must as a matter of urgency ensure that antisemitism on university campuses is not ignored. It is a travesty that this has not been tackled by some universities, with university lecturers who target Jewish students being allowed to remain in their positions.
The Online Harms Bill will also be crucial going forward, in eradicating content that incites antisemitic activities.
I am pleased that the government has committed a £65 million protective security grant to protect Jewish schools, synagogues and community buildings. We must continue to work closely with the Community Security Trust, who do outstanding work in protecting the community and ensuring that victims can come forward and report attacks to the police.
As recent days have shown, there is a lot of work to do.
Robert Halfon is the Conservative MP for Harlow and chair of the education select committee.
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