Jewish students at Goldsmiths, University of London in New Cross say a number of incidents on campus – including chants and the display of a contentious banner during a pro-Palestine demonstration – are antisemitic and have left them feeling ‘terrified’
A number of students, who asked not to be named, also spoke of harassment on social media and verbal hostility from other students on campus. Posters advocating against antisemitism have also been ripped off university noticeboards.
A spokesperson for Goldsmiths told ELL: “We take the issue of antisemitism very seriously, alongside other forms of discrimination, and are reminding students, staff, and visitors that Goldsmiths must be a place where everyone in our community feels safe and supported.”
In what some would see as the most potentially serious incident, protestors chanted ‘From London to Gaza globalise the Intifada’ on the forecourt of the main Goldsmiths building on Lewisham Way during a pro-Palestine demonstration last week. Footage was posted on social media.
‘Globalise the Intifada’ calls for aggressive resistance against Israel and is often understood to encourage violence against Israelis, Jews, and Jewish institutions.
The chant appears to fall under the Metropolitan Police’s definition of hate crimes as: “messages calling for violence against a specific person or group”.
Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police arrested a number of people displaying a banner saying ‘Globalise the Intifada’ outside a property in Regents Park.
Historically, the phrase has been used to describe periods of widespread Palestinian protests, civil disobedience, and acts of violence and terrorism against Israelis.
On the same day, a large sign with the phrase ‘From the River to the Sea’ – which many argue is antisemitic – was draped across the front steps of the university. It was removed by university security staff. The Home Office has proposed criminalising the use of the phrase in certain contexts.
Dr David Hirsh, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths and an expert on antisemitism, said the phrase had antisemitic connotations: “The slogan is deliberately ambiguous, although it’s not that ambiguous if you think about it carefully, it certainly implies that Palestine stretches from the river to the sea. The key thing about the slogan is that it makes no distinction between Israel and Palestine. If you said it in the context of Israel, it would come across that there should be no Palestine.
“A single free Palestine could come about with the consent of the Israelis or without the consent of the Israelis. Without consent, it could come about by the military conquest of Israel, and already we know that there is no chance that a military conquest of Israel could lead to a democratic state or a free Palestine between the river and the sea. We can feel more confident in that assertion now, after October 7.
“The slogan is a slogan for a democratic secular state; Hamas do not want a democratic or a secular state; Hamas is clear about its desire to murder the Jews.”
One postgraduate student, known as ‘A’, witnessed the chanting: “The group marched into the Richard Hoggart Building where I was having a class and started chanting on a megaphone. During my lesson, all I heard was screaming to globalise the Intifada, and when I looked out the window, the security guards were just standing there doing nothing.
“As a Jewish student, I was terrified they were going to come into my classroom and ask who was Jewish. It’s terrifying to hear even one person screaming for your death, but to hear multiple people screaming for your death and people walking past saying nothing is even worse.
“I spend a lot of time helping with peace keeping between Palestinians and Israelis, we all want a beautiful, peaceful solution, and we all agree that Hamas is the problem. We hate that there are Palestinian lives lost, but these spaces (university demonstrations) aren’t safe for Jewish people.”
Another postgraduate Jewish student, known as ‘B’, said: “It’s threatening, it’s saying we don’t have a right to exist, it’s a vicious cycle of the disdain and hate for Jews.”
Some students have complained to academic staff about antisemitic incidents.
Student ‘C’, an undergraduate student was aggressively berated on an official Goldsmiths Instagram account comment section after posting about the conflict, they told one member of staff: “It has increasingly gotten more uncomfortable for me to feel safe on campus and I am unsure what to do.”
Some Jewish students said they have been encouraged by academics to conceal their religious identity.
However, A told ELL: “My faculty have been amazing and so supportive; the head of my programme was so upset that I didn’t feel safe on campus, and the programme conveners have been advocating for getting antisemitic rhetoric off campus.”
A added: “I’ve had to be the one to advocate against antisemitism on campus. I have to take pictures and keep records of everything I see. This includes posters being ripped off the notice boards within half an hour of being put up.”
B also said: “I don’t particularly want to work at the university because it’s too triggering to constantly be reminded that I am an outsider; it’s too trauma inducing.”
C said: “The reason I chose to study at Goldsmiths is because they have an anti-bigotry, anti-hate policy. I assumed I would feel safe, but that is not true. These policies are a lie.”
The university adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of Antisemitism in June 2022.
The definition states, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.
Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The spokesperson for Goldsmiths said the circumstances surrounding the placing of the banner were being investigated: “The banner was left following a demonstration on campus, which was part of a national campaign and was quickly removed.
“We are reviewing this matter and are urgently seeking to speak to the organisers about how such demonstrations can take place in an appropriate way, which includes ensuring there is freedom of speech within the law.
“We take reports of racism and antisemitism extremely seriously and encourage students and staff to use the Report and Support system to raise any concerns, from which the College will take appropriate action.”
Goldsmiths Palestine Society were approached for comment but have not yet responded.