Confronting Campus Antisemitism: A Deep Dive into Campus Climate and Strategic Policy Recommendations

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Confronting Campus Antisemitism: A Deep Dive into Campus Climate and Strategic Policy Recommendations

DATE: 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm, 25 June 2024

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Dr Helena Ivanov, Anthony Julius, Dr David Hirsch

EVENT CHAIR: Dr Theo Zenou



[0:04] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you for joining us on this Zoom event at the Henry Jackson Society. We’re here to talk about confronting campus antisemitism. A new report by Dr Helena Ivanov- a deep dive into campus climate and strategic policy recommendations. Now, Dr Ivanov is an associate research fellow at Henry Jackson and she’s written an excellent new report on a really critical, important topic. And in order to share their insights with us, we’ve also got two experts on antisemitism in Britain. We’ve got Anthony Julius, a highly regarded lawyer and the deputy chairman of Mishcon de Reya, and we’ve got Dr David Hirsch, a senior lecturer at the Goldsmiths University of London and the campus director of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism. But before we get to them, please Helena, can you tell us more about where this report comes from? What was the research like and what findings did you make?


[1:13] Dr Helena Ivanov


Thank you so much and thank you, Anthony and David, for joining us today. I look forward to hearing your comments on the report and the audience’s questions as well. So it’s no secret that after the October 7 massacre, there has been a massive surge of antisemitism across the globe- the United States, Germany, Netherlands, France- all of these countries and the relevant organisations have reported historically high numbers of antisemitic incidents. Indeed, the United Kingdom has also not been spared. In February, the community security trust published its antisemitic incidents report for 2023 which shows that 4,103 instances of anti-Jewish hate were recorded in 2023, which represents a 147% increase compared to 2022. Of these 4,103 antisemitic incidents that have occurred, 66% have occurred on October 7 or after. So it is very clear that this October 7 marks a point in which we are seeing incidents we never thought we would see again which is basically what inspired me to do this report in the first place.


But what was really problematic is that also in the data, it has emerged that universities and campuses have become particular hotspots for these antisemitic incidents with almost all campuses across the Western world seeing a concerning rise of antisemitism on campuses following the establishment of pro-Palestine protests as well as encampments across the US and across the UK. Afterwards, we are seeing the situation taking a turn for the worse. The encampments themselves started in Colombia in April and led to over 100 people and protesters being arrested. And that’s basically a similar pattern that we then see developed across the United States where encampments are set up and the police have to come and intervene. And one of the reasons why they’ve intervened is that after those encampments have been established, attacks on Jewish students have increased. So let’s just hear some of the examples: some protesters have directly confronted Jewish students on campus, a number of universities have also seen explicit support for Intifada in these encampments with slogans such as ‘fight for world Intifada’, or ‘globalise the Intifada’, or ‘there is only one solution: Intifada revolution’ regularly being displayed across American campuses. At Columbia University specifically, demonstrators were filmed chanting ‘we say justice, you say burn Tel Aviv to the ground’ and this is just the kind of atmosphere that we’ve seen developed across the US once the encampments had been established.


And soon after the UK universities followed suit with these encampments established across UK universities as well. And whilst there have been no violent confrontations between state services and the demonstrators, the situation is as alarming across UK universities as it is in the US. One of the things that we’ve learned is that there is a manifesto that anyone who wants to join the Oxford encampment has to sign. That manifesto includes things which basically require you to accept that the State of Israel should not exist. UCL saw a situation where Jews were spat at and had to listen to a lot of antisemitic chants shouted at them. In the end, even Oxford University was forced to write a letter. Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish and non-Jewish students and staff have written a letter to the Oxford University Vice Chancellor, basically saying that this is no longer just a problem around encampments, but instead, this level of antisemitism is now also present in the classroom. Some of the details from that letter are basically saying that one Oxford professor praised the 7th of October massacre on video, according to the letter, and another professor said that what happened on October 7 was justified and understood where it was coming from. Others have argued, again the academic staff at Oxford University, that Israel planned the massacre as a pretence for occupying Gaza. In the end, the letter also says that despite the university’s commitment to zero tolerance against any form of harassment and discrimination, our attempts to report incidents have broadly been ignored.


This story that I’m telling you right now is also backed by the community security trust data, which says that in 2023, there have been 182 antisemitic incidents in university environments, compared to only 60 in 2022, which is a 203% increase across British campuses. The Henry Jackson Society has then decided to basically do independent research and investigate what is the situation. We’ve done a combination of workshops, surveys, and one-to-one interviews with students, and the data is equally grim. To illustrate, in a survey completed by 105 students in February across many UK universities, 67 said they personally experienced antisemitism since October 7. 97 out of 105 said that they’ve experienced antisemitic disinformation. 101 were arguing that the prevalence of antisemitism and antisemitic disinformation has increased since October 7 and 64 said that the atmosphere on campus is either exclusive or very exclusive, with only 13 saying that the atmosphere was inclusive or very inclusive. During the workshops that we’ve done with students, we also learned that they have deep concerns about campus safety. Many students have told us that they feel unsafe on campus. They have attributed this feeling of unsafety directly to the rise of antisemitism and the surge of antisemitic disinformation pertaining to the Israel-Hamas war. And most problematically, they’ve told us that the universities have consistently failed to address their concerns. One of the things that has emerged across the workshops is, according to the students, if you submit a report anonymously, the university is not going to process it, they will only process reports that are submitted under a name, which of course for many people is simply not an option due to their safety concerns. So it’s not just that we’re seeing a concerning rise of antisemitism and antisemitic disinformation, there also seems to be a problem with how the university has responded to that.


We’ve then decided that we also want to do one-to-one interviews with students and, admittedly, one of the shortcomings is that we were not able to speak to many students because following the establishment of encampments, many students have felt very, very concerned about their safety and were subsequently unwilling to talk to us even though we’ve offered them conditions of absolute anonymity. And here, I would just like to say that the fact that very few people wanted to talk to us in the first place and that so many people are concerned about their safety even if they talk to us even on the condition of anonymity, I think even that fact alone speaks volumes about the situation on campus settings right now. The very few that we managed to interview have told us very disturbing stories that I would like to now share with you.


So I’m obviously keeping all the data about the people involved anonymous, but one student recounted having red shoes thrown at them and being told that Hamas are not the terrorists but the Jews are. According to the same student, during a webinar, a staff member at the university claimed that no women were raped in Israel on October 7 and that Israeli women cannot be the victims because they belong to the oppressor group. The student did file a formal complaint against the staff member but as of May 2024 when the interview was conducted, the investigation was still ongoing and the staff member in question remained on campus. The student also reported that they no longer correspond with their dissertation supervisor despite the rapidly approaching submission deadline. Their dissertation focuses on various forms of antisemitism including Islamist antisemitism, but the relationship with the supervisor deteriorated because the supervisor insisted that Islamist antisemitism be excluded from the thesis because it was considered too controversial. After filing a formal complaint and requesting a new supervisor, the university responded that they were unable to provide an alternative. This student also described a hostile atmosphere in the classroom and among peers telling me that in the last six months, they ‘realised how the Holocaust could happen’ to directly cite the student in question. They argue that the Holocaust could happen today. Finally, the student was supposed to leave campus to complete the studies online and, due to safety concerns and being followed by pro-Palestine protesters, the student in question relocated to a different city.


Another student from a different university reported experiencing similar issues since October 7. They mentioned that Jewish students are often told to leave the encampment sites and the protesters frequently display antisemitic messages like ‘Zionists are racist’ and ‘from the river to the sea Palestine will be free’. The student recounted that Jewish students attempted to engage in academic discussions with the protesters about the conflict in the broader Israel-Palestine relationship, but we’re told that Zionists were not welcome in the encampments. They further testify about numerous incidents where people experienced desires to harm Jewish students leading Jewish students to avoid campus, steer clear of certain areas, and conceal their Jewish identity out of fears of being dehumanised while on campus. The student is equally troubled by the involvement of academic staff, noting that their own professor participates in pro-Palestine protests where explicit calls for the death of Jews are made. Additionally, a professor who is suspected of disseminating antisemitic content is allowed to remain on campus while under investigation and continues to speak at pro-Palestine protests. When students raised these concerns, they were basically told that nothing could be done until the investigation was complete.


Finally, we have another student from the same university telling us that the atmosphere on campus has been deeply unsettling. The student testified to seeing antisemitic messages written across campus, including that Israel harvests Palestinian organs. The student also describes how posters of hostages are ripped down and replaced with posters in the same design font and format portraying Palestinians who died in the conflict. The student has been directly affected and also attacked on campus for promoting Jewish identity. The student testified that their friends had faced even worse situations. One had a swastika drawn in their car and another one was subjected to antisemitic chants while walking to a Jewish site on campus and the Jewish support. The student explained that many of their peers no longer feel safe on campus, partly because the university has not done enough to address the issues. Consequently, many Jewish students, according to this student, now hide their Jewish identity and no longer wear kippahs or Stars of David. The student has chosen to visibly display their Jewish identity, even though it often makes them feel uneasy on campus.


This is basically how the students are nowadays reporting how they feel. And one common thread in everything that they told me is that whenever they report things to the university, the administration university would usually come back to them with ‘we’re going to go in to start an inquiry’ that becomes a never-ending process while whoever was the alleged offender remains on campus and does whatever they were doing in the first place. And equally, they’re basically saying that often they receive advice to study online if they no longer feel safe on campus. So we think the common thread of what they were saying is that the universities are not really doing anything. I also had an opportunity to speak to some staff members who equally reported, as they are Jewish, that they felt that they professionally have also suffered on the grounds of being Jewish and often encountered antisemitic chants and incidents that were in one way or another directed at them.


In terms of what the universities have done so far, in reality in the UK, most universities didn’t really do much for various reasons. Some universities are hoping that the issue might resolve itself over time. Others have suggested that there is a fear of escalation. These encampments are relatively small, if we intervene, we’re more likely to increase the attention around this and turn this into a massive protest. Finally, one staff member that we have spoken to has discussed in length how the current legislation surrounding freedom of speech basically means that you cannot dismantle these encampments. Some other universities, notably Goldsmiths, seem to have accepted most of the students’ demands. In the end, this entire situation, and some bits and pieces I have detailed so far, has led the Prime Minister and Education Secretary to make comments to organise the Vice Chancellor’s meeting and to basically declare that the government is taking a zero tolerance approach towards antisemitism, urging the universities to do something. But as of today, the universities really have not done that much. And just to be very clear, free speech is an important value to protect and the right to protest is also an important right to protect and this is not an easy situation for universities, they find themselves between a rock and a hard place. But at one point, there is a line that has been crossed and whilst the right to protest and free speech ought to be protected, you cannot actively disseminate anti-Semitism. Most universities have accepted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, they’re legally bound by the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and a lot of the incidents that I have discussed with you here today are a clear violation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.


Subsequently, I ultimately suggest that there are three short-term things that universities must do immediately and three long-term things that the university must do to improve the situation going forward. In terms of the short-term suggestions, the first thing that we propose is to have a staff member round the clock present on all encampments and protests to make sure that any antisemitic content, whether that’s a banner, chant, slogan, guest speaker, is removed from the encampments immediately, given the substantial concern of antisemitism amongst staff as well. The suggestion is that this person be chosen in cooperation with the relevant Jewish society of the university in question. The second thing that we are proposing is that there needs to be an urgent improvement in the reporting procedures, both anonymous and under-the-name submissions have to be treated with equal importance and have to be addressed immediately. The amount of time that is needed to process this and have some effective disciplinary measures taken needs to be shortened. Ultimately, we are suggesting there should be 10 working days in total from the moment when the report is submitted until the situation is resolved. There cannot be more than 10 working days passed. In addition, we’re proposing that while the investigation is ongoing, the person who is the alleged offender should temporarily be removed from campus and, if indeed they have committed the offence that they are accused of, in certain instances, we are advising permanent removal from campus. The third thing, pretty much in line with what the Oxford letter that I’ve discussed earlier is suggesting, we urge universities to organise regular meetings with relevant Jewish staff, students and Jewish student organisations to try and address the immediate concerns that they have because this is indeed an alarming situation. The year is 2024 and Jewish students no longer feel safe to attend their classes which is really unacceptable given the historical legacy that we all know.


The three long-term policies we propose because it is very clear that this antisemitism- it wasn’t like it wasn’t there and then all of a sudden, on October 7, it reappeared. It is very clear that there are underlying reasons as to why this has happened, that antisemitism has probably been prevalent across campuses for a while we just probably haven’t noticed it. The data itself also shows just how alarmingly uneducated people are. For example, in the USA, one in five young Americans think that the Holocaust was a myth according to a poll conducted by the Economist. And knowledge of the basic information pertaining to Israel and Palestine is even lower. According to The Wall Street Journal, only 47% of students who embrace the slogan ‘from the river to the sea’ could actually name which river and which sea. To illustrate the depths of the problem, consider research conducted in 2007 by the Jewish Chronicle in the UK. The poll revealed that 28% of 18 to 29-year-olds in Britain do not know if the Holocaust happened. The lack of this knowledge persists with a survey conducted in 2021 revealing that 52% of all respondents did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. 22% thought that it’s 2 million or fewer.


In light of this lack of information and knowledge and the massive spread of disinformation, we basically propose three long-term policies. The first one is disinformation training sessions across university campuses, both for staff and for students, teaching people how to recognise disinformation on one hand, but then also how to combat that disinformation in a safe and effective way. The second thing that we propose is to have holocaust and antisemitism education seminars. Unfortunately, we cannot propose the university should make them compulsory, but we do encourage universities to urge everybody to attend. And we think that it’s not just the Holocaust education that people should receive, but also contemporary forms of antisemitism. And then finally, we argue that there needs to be a more long-term consideration of how the reporting and disciplinary procedures should work. In the immediate run, we suggest cutting them short and processing them with equal importance, whether under name or anonymous, but we believe that at this point, we’ve reached a stage where a more long-term assessment of how reporting procedures work is necessary. This is the report in a nutshell. It’s going to be available on our website so please read it. But I’m going to stop here because I’m very excited to hear what the panellists have to say and what the audience is going to ask about the paper. Thank you.


[18:26] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you very much, Helena, for a sobering description of the report. So if anyone has any questions, if you can, please write them down in the Q&A or send them on the webinar chat and we’ll get to them at the end of the event. But first, we’re going to hear from Mr Anthony Julius with his legal perspective and legal insights on this question of campus antisemitism, so please…


[18:56] Anthony Julius


Theo, not to disappoint you I hope, but I’m not actually going to be talking so much about the legal implications as the political implications. But just let me make a couple of open opening remarks and then I’ll get to the guts of it. First of all, I want to thank Helena for a really good piece of work. Understanding what’s happening is work for many hands and it’s excellent that the Henry Jackson Society and Helena herself have invested the time and the thinking time to produce this report, which I’m sure will be very useful. Secondly, it seems to me that before we even get onto the subject of training, we need to understand the contemporary political conjuncture, as the Marxists used to say, we need to understand where we are in all its concreteness and all its specificity.


So, having made those preliminary remarks, let me just say some things in response to the report and begin by considering this question of the contemporary situation. It seems to me that things changed on the 7th of October and in the immediate aftermath of the 7th of October and they changed in two ways. First of all, the way in which broader society engaged with Jews- that changed, substantively. But there was also a change in the understanding that Jews had of their underlying situation. So, if you like, the ground beneath our feet altered, but we also had a clear understanding of where we had always been standing. And that, as it turned out, was in a more dangerous and unstable place than we perhaps thought the day before, two days before. Why so? I think that for three reasons. First of all, we assumed, and we were wrong to assume, that the main institutions of the state would protect us and protect us in the way that they would if they were fulfilling their objectives. So the BBC, we assumed, would protect us because it would report accurately and truthfully what was happening. We thought that the police would protect us by taking decisive action against protesters. And we thought that universities would protect us by ensuring that it was possible for Jewish academics to continue their research and for Jewish students to continue their studies, free of intimidation and harassment. And as it turns out, those institutions underperformed to levels at which we were caused to rethink our understanding of our reliance on those institutions. That’s the first change. The second change is we now understand that those distinctions and arguments about antisemitism and anti-Zionism have become utterly redundant because we see that anti-Zionism has the same terminus as antisemitism, which is death for Jews. So there is something very clarifying about that. We no longer need to talk about how anti-Zionism in its current form has many of the characteristics of antisemitism. We can give full integrity in the technical and non-moral sense to anti-Zionism as a political position and at the same time radically oppose it. Not as Zionist Jews but as Jews. We know that the anti-Zionist programme is now essentially reduced to the slogan ‘free between the river and the sea, one rape and one murder at a time’.


The third respect in which the situation has changed is that we understand that we are truly in conflict with enemies rather than mere adversaries. And the distinction is an important one because it goes to this question of training and information and so on. I thought, perhaps like most others, that what had happened on the seventh of October would give pause to our adversaries, that it would make them think, again, about the practical political implications of their anti-Zionist positions. And as it turns out, in most cases that I’ve seen at any rate, it didn’t. Of course, a certain denialism has crept into the accounts given of the 7th of October, as Helena has mentioned, but essentially, the position is: ‘It’s fine by us. Indeed, it’s something to celebrate that Hamas undertook the campaign that it did on the 7th and, of course, continues to conduct. Absolutely fine.’ Now, if that’s the position of one’s enemy, where any atrocity is justified, then it does raise the question of the nature of one’s intellectual engagement in debates and discussions about Israel. And I think it impacts what we understand by training. So that is, I think, where we are.


My specific responses to Helena’s report are as follows. First of all, allow me to say that the reference to IHRA seems to me to be unduly optimistic. My university adopted the IHRA, and notwithstanding the best efforts among others, the Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department, it has not been de-adopted. But it has been singularly useless as an instrument on which the university can rely when it comes to taking the necessary defensive action on behalf of jurists, students and staff. So much political energy and time has been expended in defending the IHRA definition. And I think, when first tested under fire, so to speak, it has proven to be close to worthless. And, of course, that’s not so much because of the specific contents of the definition as the lack of a political will in taking action by reference to it, but nonetheless, there it is.


The second point I’d make is that there’s silence in the report on the role of the OFS- the Office of Students. And I think it would be very interesting to begin an engagement with the OFS. The OFS has a regulatory role in relation to universities, equivalence of the role of the charity commissioners to other non-educational charities, largely speaking, broadly speaking. And it seems to me this is an important institutional player in the kind of larger university landscape that needs to be taken into account.


The third point I would make, and I’ll stop at this for the moment, at any rate, is that we need new institutions, new Jewish communal institutions, as well as we need to support existing Jewish community institutions. I mean, those institutions that are having an impact, like David’s, and I’m very proud and happy that I’ve been a part of the creation of the ICPG the Inter-Communal Professorial Group- which is a network of Jewish academics and others taking a firm and principal position in relation to these horrors on campus, one driven by research as well as advocacy.


[29:40] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you very much, Anthony, for sharing your thoughts and perspective. Dr David Hirsch, what do you make of Helena’s report and more broadly on the issue of campus antisemitism?


[29:40] Dr David Hirsch


So, I think that Helena’s report is very good. I think that the examples of antisemitism that you went through, Helena, are completely plausible. They coincide exactly with my experience and they are certainly examples of antisemitism. The problem is that most of those examples are controversial. In other words, although they seem very straightforward and simple and obvious to us, they are not accepted as being examples of antisemitism on campus and that seems to me to be the central problem. If you look at what Anthony said, about the institutions of the democratic state in Britain, the BBC should be telling the truth, and absolutely right. But the BBC insists that it is telling the truth, and many, many of the BBC listeners agree that it is telling the truth and, you know, people with relevant parliamentary oversight or whatever will back them up. That’s the problem. The problem is that what we perceive as being threatening, and anti semitic, and corrosive of Jewish safety and of democratic institutions and democratic thinking, is perceived by others to not be that. Similarly, the police should take decisive action against protesters, well, for sure, that would be nice, but if people do not see or cannot see that ‘from the river to the sea’, is antisemitic, or if they cannot see this relevance or significance and if, you know, 200,000 people on a demonstration do not think it’s antisemitic, then the Metropolitan Police is not going to be able to take decisive action, because it won’t have the numbers and because it won’t have the clarity.


Similarly, with universities, we should indeed make it possible for Jewish students and academics to work. What is the problem? The problem is that the reasons they can’t work are not accepted by the majority of colleagues. I have lost sight. Seven colleagues in my department have stated in public that Israel is committing genocide. And comes with the allegation of Israeli genocide is the allegation that Israel is deliberately murdering 1000s of children. Now, I hesitate, literally, you’ve just heard me, I stop and hesitate because it’s difficult to say, but the allegation that Israel murders deliberately 1000s of children with a blood libel allegation. And the reason I hesitate is because to say that feels so crazy and inflammatory that already it’s as if I’m putting myself out of the discussion, yet it’s true. So those are the problems.


And I also agree with Anthony about the notion of training. You know, footballers train, right, because they will want to get better at football and they go to coaches who know how they can get better at football. But you can’t train people to understand antisemitism when they believe that you are the racist and they are the anti-Semite. I mean, I don’t object to any of the standards put forward. Right? We should insist that universities protect students and academics, and we should insist that universities take action against antisemitic expression. All of the things you say are good. But my work focuses on really persuading people that these things are antisemitic. Actually engaging with, not with the kind of self serving formulations that are generally played with by administrators, but by what happens within the lecture theatres and the reading lists and the seminars and the conferences because you can train students and staff and administrators all you like to recognise antisemitism but when they get back into the disciplines themselves into the university, the university that is a community of scholarship, and they find that the scholars who are respected embrace antisemitic views and give those absolute views, scholarly legitimacy, that’s where you need to have that fight.


So what I’m saying, really, is that, in a way, the problem is worse than we think. And what is necessary to address the problem is hugely ambitious and it is to reconstruct the scholarly community and scholarly infrastructure, which can enable us to mentor academics, to bring academics through, to do teaching at the MA and PhD levels, to get research funding so that, you know, early career academics can go and write the books that will take on Dirk Moses and his assault on genocide studies or Judith Butler and her assault on social theory and philosophy, or any other example of antisemitism that you care to mention. How do you get into a debate with either of those two scholars? You get into a debate with those two scholars by having two years of research funding, by sitting in the library and working for two years and producing journal articles and books which can then get into the debate. So what I’m saying, I think, is that at heart, getting inside the universities is getting inside the disciplines and taking these debates in there and trying to win them inside. And if we are not successful in doing that, then all of the kind of legal and administrative and training solutions are at best firefighting, because the only way those things really make sense is if there is a majority of people in universities who embrace the positions that those actions assume.


Let me just give you quickly, I don’t know, an analogy. If it was 1961 or 1958 and you were the Vice Chancellor of a university in Alabama and you said, well, we should allow black students into our university on an equal basis. If no one around you agreed if your other administrators thought that was a terrible idea, and if the students thought was a terrible idea, and the academics and the parents and the wider community, if everyone thought that was mad, you would not succeed. And so what one had to do, and in that struggle in America, in a sense it feels easier because there’s a sense in which history was on their side and there’s a sense in which there were big political, federal forces in the north that were willing to take on those battles and we don’t, in a sense, have any of that. So that’s the problem. The problem is that you can’t have administrative or legal remedies if the administrators or the judges or the people around them do not understand and do not agree with the problem.


[38:37] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you, Dr Hirsch, for sharing your insider’s perspective on campus anti-semitism and indeed academia throughout the event. We’ve gotten a lot of questions in the Q&A which I think is a testament to the importance of this topic but also to the quality of Helena’s report into your insights. So one of the first questions, I believe, Helena, you’ve looked into this in your report, is do you believe that antisemitism is not being investigated more fully or taken more seriously by universities because of university funding? In other words, because some interests might fund universities and might wish for them to look the other way when it comes to antisemitism. Have you found anything in that regard?


[39:30] Dr Helena Ivanov


I have to say that I haven’t found any specific evidence pertaining to that. But there is some university funding that then prevents antisemitism from properly being investigated. Funding is obviously featured very highly in these conversations because one of the key demands that encampments have is obviously for their respective universities to divest from Israel. So that’s the context in which, at least for the purposes of my view, research funding was mentioned. The answers that I have gotten in terms of why is antisemitism not being investigated had more to do with the fact that a lot of universities, or at least that’s how the students feel and what some of the data is backing up, simply don’t really know what to do with all of it and they’re kind of hoping the problem is going to go away on its own, that there is this sense that, you know, it’s May and these encampments are extremely inconvenient and they are causing absolute disruption on campus. And I believe Cambridge University was in the end forced to move the location of their graduation ceremony in the Senate House because the Senate House was occupied. So, there are these encampments but at the end of the day, we are coming towards the end of term. And I think universities were sort of hoping that you know, the students are going to go home, and this problem is going to go away.


I think that also, as I mentioned, the second thing was this fear of escalation, that if the university was really to do something substantial, that what is a relatively minor, even though disruptive encampment could potentially turn into a massive protest. And on balance, they thought, it’s probably better if we don’t do anything, again, hoping that when the school year is over, the students will leave and the problem is sort of going to resolve itself on its own. And one issue that has really been substantially raised is the freedom of speech law, which is, I believe, set to go into motion in August, as one of the reasons why universities feel limited to really do anything because they believe that if they were to engage with the protesters, ban the protesters, remove certain people who are saying certain things, that they would potentially find themselves in this situation where they’re breaching the extremely liberal and very broad freedom of speech legislation that the UK Government has adopted. But if I can also say what my further opinion is, and this very much is in line with what Dr Hirsch said, which is, to deal with this problem, you really have to go very deep into its origins and I think that’s just a very big bite that one has to chew. It would be my answer. But shortly, I have not found evidence that this is directly linked to funding even though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t, it’s just not something that I found.


[42:17] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you. Dr Hirsch, there is a question for which I believe you will have an interesting answer, and same for you, Mr Julius. Has recruitment of Jewish candidates in university positions begun to change, and if so how? In other words, is antisemitism not just on campus, but it’s also affecting hiring decisions in terms of faculty?


[42:46] Dr David Hirsch


Absolutely. It determines hiring decisions in relation to faculty, certainly in disciplines that are relevant to the subject matter. So in my discipline, in sociology, my work is to study contemporary antisemitism. And somebody who is doing that work is likely to have a bad time in any kind of peer review system which means that they’re going to have difficulty publishing in quote, the right journals, it means they’re going to have difficulty getting research funding in the normal way, it means they’re going to have difficulty in promotion systems, and it means that they’re not going to get jobs. And so that’s true of people who are studying this in the wrong way, people who study this issue in a way that defines other sociologists as being implicated in antisemitism, and that’s true also of people who engage with disciplines or sub-disciplines where antisemitism is well represented. So for example, as I said, there is a big antisemitic challenge to genocide studies. So if you are in genocide studies, and if you are pushing back against that challenge, the likelihood is you won’t get a job, you won’t get hired, you won’t get funding, you won’t get published, and you won’t get promoted.


[44:26] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you. So there is a question regarding the US here in parallel with the UK. So apparently, in the US, there have been several lawsuits filed against various universities and their trustees for violation of Title Six of the federal code. And somebody wonders whether this phenomenon could be replicated in the UK. In other words, could universities be sued for allowing antisemitism? What do you think of this, Mr Julius?


[44:57] Anthony Julius


I’m sure it’s possible for litigation and regulatory strategies to be constructed against universities. There is, of course, always the question of funding and risk, and those other considerations may specifically relate to exposing students or former students to risk as participants in legal proceedings which often take a long time, very wearing. There’s also the belief, which is an American belief, I think it’s probably an American misconception, it certainly has no parts at play or very little part to play over here, that litigation can be fundamental in changing attitudes. My sense is that litigation here tends to reflect attitudes rather than being significant in changing them.


Can I say a couple of things about free speech, since I’ve got the floor for the moment because it matters? And I want to say two things. First of all, there is a problem with thinking about free speech in purely legal terms. I mean, there is a tendency in our political culture to reduce everything to law and it’s particularly damaging. In this context, free speech is not and was not in its origin, a legal concept. It’s a political concept. And that political concept, then doesn’t migrate but it registers in the legal orders from time to time in different states of development. But it’s a political concept. And it’s not just a political concept, it’s also an academic concept. And freedom of speech in politics is not the same thing as freedom of speech in the academic world, in universities. People make the mistake of asking free speech questions purely by reference to what’s lawful and then and then the answer is, well, x and y are lawful but z is over the line of what’s lawful. It’s a mistake. It’s an impoverishment of the discourse, of freedom of speech, to think about it in that way. Freedom of speech, in an academic context, has a very specific meaning and it and it divides into two. There is freedom of research and freedom of teaching, that’s to say the freedom of speech of staff of the professoriate. And there is the freedom to study and to learn and that’s the freedom claimed by students. Now, those freedoms of speech, academic freedoms of speech, are being attacked by students and academics who are seeking to exercise their non-academic, but political freedom of speech in their campaigning against Jewish students and staff.


So it’s very important to frame this correctly. This is not a case of Jewish students and staff opposing freedom of speech. It’s a case in which two conceptions of freedom of speech are in collision. And, in my view, given that we’re talking about universities, it is the academic free speech claim that trumps. It’s the academic free speech claim that is superior to the free speech claim of the protesters and others. That’s to say, where there is an immediate collision between a student shouting ‘from the river to the sea’ outside a library where another student is studying, you don’t limit the shouter’s speech in the name of a non-free speech value. You actually limit that speech in the name of another rival, but superior, free speech value, which is the free speech associated with the right to study. And because the distinction between political speech and academic speech is not recognised in the law, which is part of the laws, kind of conceptual poverty, this very important political point (small p) is routinely overlooked by university administrators and others.


[50:34] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you for such a detailed breakdown of what freedom of speech does mean because it’s a term we’ll hear about a lot today in social media, and on TV as part of the political debate, but we seldom hear it with such clinical precision and definition so thank you for that. Another question, and I believe Helena, you will enlighten us about this, it’s an anonymous question and asks, how do we enforce university regulations which prohibit discrimination, harassment, etc? Because this individual, apparently, has complained formally to the university, following every detail of the regulations and the complaint has been ignored. In other words, how do you make sure that whatever recommendations you make, even if universities pledge to follow them, they actually follow through?


[51:25] Dr Helena Ivanov


Yeah, the questions of enforcement are obviously the hardest ones to answer. And when I was writing this report, it was my hope and belief that for most universities, there is a lot of goodwill so I do firmly want to believe that most universities are not necessarily sure what’s the best approach. Have they crossed the line? Is it time to draw the line in the sand? And subsequently, hopefully, in such cases, these kinds of policies should be helpful. In cases where there is no goodwill and where, you know, someone just simply doesn’t want to protect the group of students, I firmly do believe it is the government’s duty to ensure that. Not that I think Rishi Sunak should now go and enforce my policies in universities across the UK, but I do think that at one point, if the government, Labour, Tory, someone else, if any government really wants to make the pledge, zero tolerance towards discrimination, then it is that government’s duty to enforce that. And you know, hopefully, the system is set up in a way in which that can be done but in cases where universities are explicitly refusing to do so I believe the only upper authority that has the capacity to do something about this is the government. And I think if that’s necessary, that’s necessary.


[52:50] Dr Theo Zenou


I see. I think an important point in this conversation that comes back a lot is antisemitism as a form of hate is very difficult to combat. And whatever stipulations are made at universities, whatever enforcement or regulations are done, might not get to the heart of the issue. So how do you combat hate? How do you combat propaganda? How do you combat disinformation? I know, Helena, you did your PhD on this very issue so more broadly, more culturally, how would it start to be possible to fight against a pernicious antisemitic propaganda?


[53:37] Dr Helena Ivanov


I firmly believe that you have to engage with it and you have to fight it on all fronts. I don’t think that merely prohibiting specific views is going to be enough especially because, you know, so many people are nowadays going to say ‘I’m not being antisemitic, I’m just criticising the State of Israel’ and it’s true any citizen on this planet and free world has the right to criticise any government- the UK Government, the Israeli government, any other government. The problem is that in a lot of these cases, these people are not understanding that they are not just criticising the Israeli government, they’re actually being antisemitic. And that’s one of the reasons why simply prohibiting speech isn’t going to really work and I think you have to combat it on every single brand that you can. I think you do it in the classroom, you do it in academia, you do it in published papers, you do it out there in the press. You have competing discourses and you’re hoping that yours which is fighting antisemitism is going to win and then of course, I think you also need to have certain prohibitions and sanctions in place. I think that you know, if as a staff member on a webinar that’s, you know, out there publicly available for people to see denies that Israeli women were raped on October 7, I definitely do not think that staff members should be allowed to go back to work the day after as if nothing happened. You know that’s just spreading, lies that we know have mattered in the past because such propaganda can lead to violence. I know it’s sometimes hard for people to believe but it is true that over the course of years, if you’re exposed to continuous, hateful propaganda, at one point, you may reach a stage where you think that violence against that group that’s targeted by that hateful propaganda, that violence against that group is actually legitimate.


[55:26] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you. Dr Hirsch, what are your thoughts on how best to combat antisemitism? You, obviously, are the Academic Director of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, you understand this phenomenon better than most. Now that you’ve understood it, how can you combat it?


[55:46] Dr David Hirsch


I think the more I understand the situation, the less confidence I have that I know how to combat it. I think it is a very profound position that we find ourselves in. You said in the previous question, antisemitism as a form of hate- antisemitism is also an ideology, a worldview, a way of thinking about the world. And [inaudible] talked about the Nazis’ belief that the Jews were the key to history. If you didn’t understand the Jews, you didn’t understand anything. And we’re seeing more and more that people are acting as though Israel is the key to history. If you don’t understand Israel, and its essential genocidal nature, then you don’t understand anything. And interestingly, in that case, it’s not in the first place anything to do with discrimination, it’s to do with a sort of worldview and ideology which happens to be based around Jewish power and Jewish evil. The answer is we do what we can do. I think that Jews need to get ever more serious about defending themselves. I think they need to get ever more serious about making alliances with people fundamentally, with people who support democracy and democratic ways of thinking because antisemitism is always symptomatic of anti-democratic, intellectual and political frameworks and we have natural allies in people who believe that democracy is the best way for us to live together. I think that in academia, we need to do what we can to challenge academic antisemitism, as I said, to mentor and to support new academics and other academics in that work to create communities of scholarship and infrastructure of scholarship, to take on the ideas that underpin antisemitism in public life at their highest level, which is in the universities. And I think we do what we can do, but I’m not promising an easy victory. In fact, as I say, the more I think about it, the more difficult I think a victory becomes. I think in the end, there’s a reason for optimism, which is the one that I stated, which is that our allies are the people who support the democratic state and democratic ways of thinking about the world.


[58:34] Dr Theo Zenou


Thank you. Anthony Julius, what is your perspective on the long fight against antisemitism?


[58:45] Anthony Julius


Well, we’re not volunteers are we? So, I mean, antisemitism is just a very unpleasant, threatening waste, an ugly and stinky presence. And we have to, we’re forced to deal with it, not to seek it out. I mean, unlike the kids playing at politics in the encampments, our real interests are involved and are under attack and we have no choice but to fight. And what does that mean? Well, that depends on the tactical possibilities and requirements of the moment. But maintaining the morale of our own people. Understanding the situation, giving witness to each other of what things are actually like. It’s such a profound imperative in Jewish history that, I mean, [inaudible], the great Lithuanian historian, Simon [inaudible], just in the moments before he was killed by his German enemies. He turned to one of his students and said shrine, shrine, write it down, record it, don’t let this catastrophic moment in Jewish history pass without at least a record being created. Now we’re not in, God forbid, Holocaust times or even pre-Holocaust times. But the imperative to record what is happening, to actually understand it, not to let the sheer nastiness and the violence and the shouting and the intimidation and the harassment demoralise us so that we lose our capacity to understand the situation that we’re in, to offer intelligent diagnoses, not to surrender that. That is the very first duty that we have and that’s one that I think David and I and Helena and others on this webinar are committing ourselves to as well as obviously more active and engaged forms of resistance.


[1:01:45] Dr Theo Zenou


Indeed, thank you. And as far as bearing witness, I think everybody should read Helena’s report confronting campus antisemitism, because it is history for the present, right? And perhaps many years from now, we will look back at this as a dark time in our history, but we’ll be in a better place. Let’s hope. In any case, thank you, Dr Ivanov for your paper and your presentation. And thank you as well to Dr David Hirsch and Anthony Julius for your insights on this important topic. And to everyone who attended, there have been many comments in the Q&A, we won’t have the time to get to every one of your comments but thank you for engaging with this and really the debate is only starting so please do read Helena’s report and think deeply about it and bear witness. Thank you.


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