Confronting campus antisemitism

Think tank: The Henry Jackson Society

Author(s): Dr Helena Ivanov

June 25, 2024

This report from UK think tank the Henry Jackson Society takes a deep dive into campus climate and offers strategic policy recommendations.

On 7 October, as Hamas launched the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust, the world stood by and held its breath in shock. The devastating images of raped women, dead civilians, destroyed homes and kibbutzes and mutilated bodies travelled across the globe, resurrecting memories we believed would remain confined to the past – as lessons learned, not relived. Yet on that day, approximately 1200 Israelis were killed by Hamas, with 255 more taken hostage.

In the months that followed, Israel and Hamas entered a full-scale war that shows no signs of diminishing. As of 15 May 2024, according to the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), the toll on Israel has been devastating, with over 300 further lives lost (since 7 October) and approximately 118,000 Israelis internally displaced. Moreover, more than 100 people are still kept in captivity in Gaza. And according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, over 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war started, although this number is of course impossible to verify. In addition, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in Gaza, “83 per cent of the population [was] internally displaced”.

A brief pause in hostilities took place in November 2023, facilitated by Qatar, during which a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas was brokered. This period saw the agreement for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and the release of 105 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for over 200 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. Ever since, every attempt to negotiate a ceasefire (permanent or temporary) has fallen through. The duration of the war has been accompanied by a deeply troubling rise in antisemitism and antisemitic incidents across Western countries, as detailed in this report.

It is important to note that while there is a correlation between the rise in antisemitism and the Israel–Hamas war, the two are not equivalent. One can legitimately criticise the Israeli Government, or any government, without being antisemitic. However, as we demonstrate below, most of the incidents reflecting the rise in antisemitism were not instances of criticism or attacks on the Israeli Government. Instead, they targeted Jewish people solely for being Jewish, manifesting in hate crimes, vandalism of Jewish sites and verbal and physical assaults on individuals simply because of their Jewish identity. These actions underscore the dangerous and unacceptable nature of this resurgence in bigotry. In recent months, Jewish people have faced regular attacks, with Jewish students experiencing significant abuse and bullying on university campuses, leading some to opt for completing their studies online.

In this report, we will specifically focus on the rise of antisemitism on university campuses following 7 October and particularly after the outbreak of pro-Palestine protests and encampments. We will provide details about the alarming levels of antisemitism gathered from workshops, one-to-one interviews and surveys conducted by the Henry Jackson Society, along with data from other research institutions.

In the final section, we will offer policy recommendations aimed at providing immediate solutions for UK-based universities, as well as long-term policies to address the underlying causes of this antisemitism.

While we will concentrate solely on the UK for the purposes of this report, it is important to clarify that this choice is made to maintain the scope of our analysis, rather than suggesting any outlier status for the UK in this context.