On Friday, a report by Universities UK was released which made recommendations on fighting antisemitism. The 114-page report, which covers violence against women, harassment and all types of hate crime is the culmination of a study by a specially-convened Universities UK Taskforce. It is a tremendously disappointing document.
The report set out by spectacularly failing to grasp the scale of campus antisemitism. Firstly, the report cited figures for 2015 from the Community Security Trust noting that 21 incidents of antisemitism had been reported to the charity’s reporting helpline by students, comprising just 2% of the cases reported. The report based its assertions that antisemitism was not at alarming levels on that data, despite admitting that under-reporting was likely to be a significant problem. Indeed, the likely reason that so few cases of antisemitism are reported on campus is that such incidents have become so frequent, and the response so lacking, that Jewish students see reporting incidents as a waste of their time. Under-reporting is a symptom of a failure to enforce, but Universities UK did not draw that conclusion.
The report also cited a study from 2011 by the Equality Challenge Unit which asked just 20 Jewish students whether they felt discriminated against or harassed. Despite a quarter of them saying that they did, Universities UK concluded that the “vast majority” did not suffer problems. We would suggest that a quarter of Jewish students suffering from antisemitism is no cause for celebration, but in any case we wonder how Universities UK can possibly justify reliance on a survey of just 20 Jews.
The report’s principal failure however is not to have recommended firm steps against antisemitism. Instead, the report offered no significant new recommendations, instead merely congratulating universities on their good work and merely exhorting them to continue what they already do.
Whereas the report was commendably thorough in analysing violence against women, it cited multiple definitions of antisemitism but did not lend its backing to any of them.
Antisemitism at universities is a major problem. Those responsible for tackling it must have a detailed understanding of the challenges Jewish students face, and the forms antisemitism on campus often takes.
Universities UK missed the opportunity to meaningfully grapple with antisemitism. They failed to show any evidence in their report that they had understood the challenges that Jewish students face, and by recommending more of the same when it comes to fighting antisemitism on campus, Universities UK is simply sentencing Jewish students to a future in which antisemitism continues to rise, relatively undisturbed. All the more reason to be thankful for the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s report on antisemitism in the UK, which addressed antisemitism at universities with specific recommendations.