UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Report finds antisemitic harassment at UK universities

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published an important report on racial harassment at higher education institutions, ‘Tackling Racial Harassment: Universities Challenged

The report reveals that racial harassment, including antisemitic harassment, is an everyday occurrence for many students and staff in British universities. The findings show that universities are too slow to recognise and address racial harassment. It makes 10 recommendations, including:

  • Higher education providers must enable students and staff to report harassment and ensure their complaints procedures are fit for purpose and offer effective redress

  • Senior leaders should take steps to embed an inclusive culture where staff and students feel confident and supported when making complaints

  • Regulators and funding councils should provide more guidance to support providers to prevent and tackle harassment

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) submitted information to the EHRC which appears to have had some impact.  Our submission noted that we have been regularly consulted regarding problems faced by students sympathetic to Israel, including impediments to and disruption of meetings with Israeli or Israel-supporting speakers, intimidation of students attending such meetings, and misuse of resources and facilities of student unions to promote mendacious and inflammatory political campaigns against Israel.

We pointed out that “a significant level of hostility is felt by Jewish and Israeli students at a number of universities” and that harassment is under-reported: “where harassment has occurred, the victims seem to prefer to get on with their lives and put it behind them; we imagine that it is quite painful for them to relive the experience. There is also a high level of scepticism that the relevant authorities will take any significant steps to mitigate the hostility at the universities where it exists, and a feeling that it is not worth the effort, risk of increased hostility, and possible impact on grades and careers to complain.”

We submitted a 55-page summary of material regarding antisemitism and harassment of Jewish and other students sympathetic to Israel between 2015 and 2017 at 26 different universities. We record our gratitude to The Lawfare Project which partially funded the preparation of this summary, and to Caroline Kendal, Joseph Stoll and Caroline Turner who did much of the work of compiling the information and preparing the summary.

We also provided statements of

  • a student who had attended a blatantly antisemitic meeting

  • a student who had attended a virulently antisemitic Palestinian meeting, where violence against Jews had been threatened,

  • a student at Oxford University who had received antisemitic emails from a Professor

  • those attending an Israel society meeting disrupted by a highly intimidating demonstration, including one who was assaulted

The EHRC acknowledged in its report that it received examples of anti-Semitic slurs and noted (at page 27 of the report) that “Racial harassment often goes hand-in-hand with religiously-motivated harassment. One of the most widely reported anti-Semitic issues was harassment experienced by students in and around protest events on campus, including physical intimidation.”

An example of antisemitism given at page 28 of the report was:  “One student told me ‘they were baking Jews like cupcakes in Auschwitz’ and that they would like to put me in an oven.”

The report found that around a quarter of students from an ethnic minority background (24%) and 9% of “white” students said they had experienced racial harassment since starting their course. This equates to 13% of all students.

The report also found that most students and staff do not report racial harassment. “Our student survey found that two-thirds of students who said they had experienced racial harassment during the first half of the 2018/19 academic year did not report it to their university. Fewer than half of all staff respondents to our call for evidence, who had been racially harassed, reported their experiences. They told us this was because they:

  • had no confidence that the university would address it

  • did not know how to report

  • could not judge whether it was serious enough to report, or

  • had difficulty proving what occurred.

 Others feared the personal consequences that reporting might have on their education, career and wellbeing, or worried they would be seen as a troublemaker.”

 The EHRC wrote to thank UKLFI for its help “in shaping the inquiry and ensuring we were able to gather good evidence that has been instrumental in helping us to shape our recommendations for change.”

 UKLFI welcomes the report and its recommendations.  Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI commented: “We are very pleased that the EHRC has recognised the extent and seriousness of antisemitism and other forms of racism at UK universities. The EHRC’s extensive research confirmed key points which we drew to their attention in our submission, including widespread failure of university authorities to take effective action to address these problems and under-reporting due to lack of confidence that they will do anything. This report is a wake-up call which we hope will lead to significant change.”