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Decisive action needed from the university on antisemitism

ByMolly Workman

Mar 16, 2019

Content Warning: antisemitism

Edinburgh University is the latest to be afflicted by the rising tide of antisemitism plaguing campuses across Britain. Student Christopher Marland recently stumbled upon the unsettling remark, “the Jews control us,” scribbled in stark black onto the men’s lavatory wall in the Chrystal Macmillan building. The slander’s anonymity inhibits direct retribution befalling them, yet it is arguable that this singular expression of antisemitism is symptomatic of a wider systemic failure on the university’s part to combat racial prejudice and bigotry.

This particular vilification of the Jewish community is rooted in Jewish conspiracy theory, playing off the myth that behind the scenes of all major world happenings, omnipotent Jewish puppeteers are manipulating the strings. The notion that the Jewish Rothschild dynasty profiteers from world conflict whilst secretly controlling the global economy was popularised almost two centuries ago. Still a pervasive force today, we have recently seen a resurgence of antisemitic ‘conspiracy-mongering’ on the political stage, with nine MPs recently attributing their exodus from Labour to the party becoming “infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism,” in the words of Joan Ryan. A former party member was admonished for sharing a post accusing the Rothchilds of “owning Israel,” alluding to Jewish influence in US Congress, whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s comment that some British Zionists had “no sense of English irony” was branded by former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks as “the most offensive statement” since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. The party are now facing a statutory inquiry from Britain’s equality watchdog.

The graffiti warrants a deeper interrogation of antisemitism on campus. A condemnation in email form from the university just isn’t going to cut it; the administration needs to take responsibility for the perpetuation of these beliefs within its walls – and on its walls, quite literally. Incidents like these demand a resolute, unyielding response, in which a distinct precedent is set. Perhaps a more visible attempt to find the perpetrator and hold them accountable could deter a repeat offence. Even if the investigation fails to find the individual culpable, it will succeed in symbolically representing the university’s unwavering policy on the matter.

The university could also address antisemitism through reformative action from within. It should emphatically ensure that lectures concerning Middle Eastern history and the Israeli-Palestinian debate are devoid of antisemitic undertones or rhetoric. Furthermore, by organising and hosting seminars to raise awareness of the problem, as well as supporting both financially and symbolically student campaigns in their plight against prejudice, Edinburgh can champion the eradication of antisemitism from its campuses.

It has been made abundantly clear that antisemitism will not abate by itself. The sentiment that ‘the Jews control us’ has a deep malignance: the age-old antisemitic tropes to which it relates, linking Jews to monetary power and aspirations to world dominance, are the same used by the Nazis to justify the Holocaust. The seriousness of a rise in antisemitic rhetoric need not be expounded. The university must immobilise a practice that victimises an entire community and threatens to undermine the core democratic values of our society.


Image: Sara Konradi

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