This is a guest post by Jay Stoll, LSE Jewish Society President
Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear. Time then, for some uncomfortable truths.
Breaking details from the London School of Economics of Nazi-themed drinking games, anti-Semitic abuse and a subsequent assault on a Jewish student on a recent SU ski trip, in December of last year, cannot, and should not, be seen as another isolated incident.
An evening of swastika playing card formations, ‘salutes and respect’ to ‘the Fuhrer’, inevitably led to violent confrontation with a deeply offended Jewish student, in what should have been preparations for a night out in Val D’Isserre. The game, initiated by those with positions of captaincy within the School’s Athletic Union, continued in the knowledge of a Jewish Student present. Increased tensions eventually spilling over into a brawl, resulting in the Jewish student having his nose broken. Onlookers and fellow teammates merely stood by, clamoured for the Rocky theme tune, and proceeded to post events on Facebook.
In an institution ravaged by 18 months of damning PR, it must be firmly noted that this latest aberration should not be attributed to the School, the Student Union Officers, or the Athletics Union President, whom have acted with an impeccable sense of duty to their Jewish community. A School investigation is already underway, and the Student Union is poised to implement severe sanctions on the students in question. The true establishment that should be scrutinized is that of an over-privileged, anti-intellectual culture within a minority of the wider student body.
Alarm bells should be ringing as to the consistency in the demographic of students in question, the universities they attend and the type of events that have ensued. Let’s not play dumb to the reality here. Let’s not pretend we haven’t seen it before, from the same culprits, in the same context, with the same excuses. Fresh from their boarding school lives, some of the upper middle classes of Athletics Unions, primed for the future political elites, have displayed a complete disregard to any consequence of their palpably insulting behaviour.
The educated and respectful majorities in Athletics Unions brush this crude minority under the carpet. Primarily this is done in the somewhat understandable ethos of being part of a team, but more disturbingly, done in order to save face as a collective.
Public order offences, contextualized. Sexism and accompanying masochism, contextualized. Homophobia, contextualized. Tokenism of minority members of their teams, contextualized. Athletics Unions and their autonomous social programs may constitute a fantastic facet of many university lives, but this does not excuse blatant violations of society’s basic tenets: cooperation, mutual respect and a zero-tolerance to prejudice.
The two most galling cases of anti-Semitism on campuses in recent years have occurred at Oxford and now, LSE. The former being of course when Oxford Students deemed it appropriate fancy dress to arrive at a party dressed as Orthodox Jews, carrying ‘bags of money’. It is also worth noting recently disgraced MP Aiden Burley was Oxford-educated and in fact, a former officer of the OU Conservative Association. Again, not a reflection upon the institutions themselves, but such knowledge should highlight the depressing reality of said instances occurring in the top academic arenas. This also prompt a reality check, regarding where and to whom specifically, we attribute our focus in fighting racism.
The abhorrent BNP and the EDL, and even certain national publications, are all too quick in their McCarthyist agenda to embarrass the Muslim community with constant vilification for their extreme few. Yet when it comes to ‘fig-leaf’ anti-Semitism, I would argue the true ignorance stems from those who they would look last to accuse.
The recent UJS survey, conducted by IPSOS Mori and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, highlighted that 20% of Jewish students had experienced anti-Semitism, and a further 32% had witnessed anti-Semitism in the last academic year. Most Jewish students, therefore, live a happy and normal university life, with issues such as job prospects and a healthy social life (!) paramount, but this does not detract whatsoever from the severity of instances such as these.
Some may think that the issue of anti-Semitism is simply a campus issue consigned to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, who will be touring campuses at the end of this month. As the President of the LSE Jewish Society, I urge readers to think otherwise. I urge you to read the account of events in The Beaver this week, then reread this article and realize that such times are screaming out for a non-partisan anti-racism movement with a real pledge to eradicate discrimination in ALL of its forms. Only then can we consign spiteful, collective attacks on a community like this at LSE to a dark chapter of history.