The University of Bristol’s recent verdict that comments in Dr Rebecca Gould’s article ‘Beyond Anti-Semitism’ are not anti-Semitic places a dark cloud over Jewish students at Bristol.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is adopted by various institutions, including the government, the Labour Party, Bristol SU, the National Union of Students and the Union of Jewish Students.
It unequivocally states that ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is anti-Semitic, as is ‘accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.’ When this definition is applied to Dr Gould’s article, there is no room for debate.
Some readers will undoubtedly dismiss this article as a smear or an attempt to legitimise Israeli government policies. I will be branded a ‘Zionist’ – as if it is some kind of insult – and will be told that I fail to distinguish between Zionism and Judaism.
Specifically referring to the Holocaust… when criticising Israel can have no other intention than to grossly offend and traumatise Jewish people.
But let me be clear, so no one can twist my words to suit warped political agendas: condemning Israeli government policy and their treatment of Palestinians is not anti-Semitic.
Suggesting that Jewish people or Israel have usurped the memory of the Holocaust or that Israel has any role in perpetrating the ‘Holocaust’ is hateful, offensive and, yes, anti-semitic. Specifically referring to the Holocaust, instead of using other language, when criticising Israel can have no other intention than to grossly offend and traumatise Jewish people.
Even more offensive is the university’s apparent failure to consider the opinions of Jewish students regarding this issue. It seems to me that very little attempt was made to understand how the content of Dr Gould’s article affected them.
— CAA #Antisemitism (@antisemitism) August 9, 2017
Instead, Jewish students at this university have been ignored by a committee who have allowed one of our history’s greatest traumas to be used as a stick with which to beat us, claiming that they understand anti-Semitism better than Jewish students. Our university and our SU have a duty of care for Jewish students but on this occasion, they have failed.
When choosing modules for next year, I chose not to study in Dr Gould’s lecture hall despite my interest in her academic field. With the memory of the Holocaust still so vivid and traumatic in Jewish collective memory, I could not justifiably sit in a classroom being lectured by someone who harbours such abhorrent views.
When speaking to other Jewish students at various universities about this issue, I heard countless similar stories of those who thought their marks would suffer, as they knew their tutors had expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in the past.
When it comes to anti-Semitism at Bristol, I am not looking for sympathy. I am looking for action.
That Jewish students feel unable to pursue their academic interests for fear of facing anti-Semitism is unacceptable. When it comes to anti-Semitism at Bristol, I am not looking for sympathy. I am looking for action.
Anti-Semitism will not just disappear; it must be called out and challenged. Bristol is lucky to be home to the fastest growing population of Jewish students in the country, but this verdict sets a dark precedent for those joining us in September, who may feel unsupported and vulnerable.
As Dr Gould herself says, we must speak up against injustices wherever we see them. We must think about what message we want to send to minority students and how we choose to deal with oppression of any kind, and act accordingly. To not take action on circumstances of anti-Semitism is simply not an option.
Read the university’s response here.
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