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Campus hate speech shows that Holocaust education has been an abysmal failure

(Alamy)

4 min read

Every Jew in the world was profoundly shocked and distressed by the massacre of 7 October.

Many have family involved and are personally affected. There is a wide range of views in the Jewish community about the right response. But whatever their views, Jews, especially Jewish students, have become targets of a wider hatred and many are fearful and disillusioned about the safety the community had enjoyed in the UK in their lifetimes.

They are even more amazed by the lack of calls to free the hostages, whose freedom would end the combat in Gaza immediately. They are shocked by the defacement on campus of pictures of the hostages, defacement that would never occur were the pictures of, say, imprisoned Islamist terrorists. The situation has given rise to the worst antisemitism on campus for nearly a century. The protesters with their keffiyehs (cultural appropriation, surely?) embrace Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, giving rise to the impression that it is also a protest against Western ways. Yet it is the blatant antisemitism and hate speech that differentiates our university protester encampments from those other protests.

Jewish students... feel isolated, unsafe and targeted

Freedom of speech is fundamental in our universities, subject to speech being lawful. Calls for the death of Jews and their comparison with Nazis is clearly unlawful and hate speakers should at least be disciplined. Were protesters to call for the expulsion of Black people from this country, there would be no doubt at all about the need to condemn and possibly prosecute them. But as David Baddiel famously said: “Jews don’t count”.

Take my own university, Oxford, with its encampment, as just one heartbreaking example. Jewish students, regardless of their views, have been told that they should “leave”; they hear “from Oxford to Gaza, long live the intifada” and “from the river to the sea” – calls for Israel to be obliterated. That is racism. They feel isolated, unsafe and targeted. Universities have a legal and moral duty to protect their minorities and foster good relations between different groups. Where is the legion of equality, diversity and inclusion officers when they are needed? There will be no support from the University and College Union or the National Union of Students, both longtime hubs of anti-Israel sentiment. 

Universities should be condemning and explaining antisemitism, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, and stating that it is possible to show support for Gazans without attacking Jewish students. Those students should no more be held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government than Chinese students have been held responsible for the atrocious actions of their government, or other Middle Eastern students been vilified for the misogynistic and violent actions of their oil-rich authoritarian governments. 

The campers’ apparent ignorance of history is a sad illustration of how antisemitism has been re-crafted in the last 75 years. Jews who were once victims of genocide are portrayed as perpetrators of it; once an oppressed minority seeking self-determination, now seen as white colonialists. Compulsory Holocaust education has failed abysmally by presenting the deaths of the six million as something frozen in the past. It’s not enough to put up a Holocaust memorial, as is proposed, and then accuse Israel of genocide, or threaten to stop arms to save Israel; to let Islamist propaganda run riot through our schools and campuses, or to let death threats to Jews parade freely.

What should the universities do about the encampments? As far as possible, ignore them and do not respond to their demands. It is not even as if the demanded boycott would convince the Israeli government to change course. The sale of arms by the UK to Israel is a tiny amount, but our reliance on Israeli technology and medicine is enormous. I have heard no calls to forego the benefits we derive from them. Most student protests die naturally – they mature and move on. It will soon be the summer vacation. 

 

Baroness Deech, crossbench peer

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