Student report reveals 45 percent of Jews not confident discussing Israel

Student report reveals 45 percent of Jews not confident discussing Israel

Landmark study shows nearly half of Jewish students uncomfortable discussing Israel, but not worrying about hate crime

NUS president Malia Bouattia
NUS president Malia Bouattia

A report examining the experience of Jewish students on campus say almost half do not feel comfortable voicing their views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in class, but that most don’t worry about hate crime.

Published on Monday, the report is the culmination of five months’ research, and is described as a “first-of-its-kind study” by the National Union of Students (NUS) to help make university life more “inclusive and welcoming” to Jewish students.

Researchers found that while 73 percent of Jewish students polled were not worried about hate crime, two thirds of respondents who said they had been the victims of crime believe they were targeted because of their beliefs, and almost three in ten said they had experienced abuse through social media.

Likewise, 45 percent of the 485 self-defining Jewish students surveyed said that they did not feel confident voicing their views on Israel-Palestine in class.

Other concerns expressed by respondents included lack of access to kosher food on campus (42 percent) and the timetabling of exams and activities over Shabbat and Jewish festivals (59 percent).

The UK is home to 8,500 Jewish students, a quarter of whom study in London, and concerns have been growing in recent years that the politically-charged nature of the Middle East debate in British campuses was creating a hostile environment.

Current NUS President Malia Bouattia is known as a strong critic of Israel and Zionism. She has said these are legitimate political positions, but her commitment to defending Jewish students against anti-Semitism has been questioned, and the report shows almost half (49 percent) of Jewish students do not feel comfortable attending NUS events.

The report was commissioned in November by Robbiie Young, an NUS vice-president who said his own experience of homophobic bullying meant that he wanted “to provide this opportunity for others to talk about their oppression”.

Among the members of the steering group were Josh Nagli, campaigns manager at the Union of Jewish Students, and Jewish student Izzy Lenga, who is aiming to become a vice-president of NUS at this year’s national conference.

An NUS spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful to the Jewish students who completed the survey for their time and input. From these important results we have developed a number of recommendations for NUS, students’ unions and the wider Higher Education sector.”

Nagli welcomed the findings, saying: “It provides a series of thoughtful and constructive recommendations that, if implemented, will have a profoundly positive impact on Jewish student life.

He added that it was “unsurprising that the report shows that such a large number feel uncomfortable engaging with NUS and student politics. The NUS must work to rebuild trust with Jewish students and, along with students’ unions and higher education institutions, aim to fully understand Jewish students’ needs”.

A spokesperson for Jewdents, a Jewish student group who support boycotts of Israel, said: “It is hugely significant that 1 in 4 Jewish students are comfortable or very comfortable with BDS. We expect an even higher proportion would support a settlement boycott. More and more British Jews are questioning not just the actions of the current Israeli government, but the existence of a Jewish nation-state.”

“We believe that many of the big problems Jewish students face on campus stem from within our community. Many students are unable to practice progressive Judaism within JSocs or to be openly critical of Israel, and UJS has done nothing to tackle this. Increasingly, progressive students are abandoning JSocs to form more inclusive Jewish student groups which are supported by Jewdas, Reform and Masorti Judaism.”

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