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Survey: 4 in 10 British Jewish students experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism

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Jewish students at the University of Manchester are performing as part of the campus's Israel Awareness Week. Manchester is one of the UK campuses with the highest number of Jewish students. (Manchester Jewish Society)

Jewish students at the University of Manchester are performing as part of the campus’s Israel Awareness Week. Manchester is one of the UK campuses with the highest number of Jewish students. (Manchester Jewish Society)

LONDON (JTA) – More than four out of every 10 Jewish students at British universities reported witnessing or experiencing anti-Semitic incidents between October 2010 and this March.

But only two in 10 said they were concerned about campus anti-Semitism.

Those were two of the findings in a newly released survey of Jewish students in Britain that showed respondents generally comfortable with their religious identity, and relatively unconcerned about anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity on campus.

The National Jewish Student Survey, conducted by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research and released in September, is the first-ever study examining Jewish campus life in Britain. It was commissioned by the Pears Foundation and the Union of Jewish Students, the umbrella group that oversees Jewish societies at more than 100 British universities — essentially the British equivalent of Hillel houses.

The survey, which drew more than 900 respondents from nearly 100 institutions and was conducted in February and March, provides a comprehensive look at the demographics of the so-called millennial generation, young people who came of age in a Britain focused on Jewish continuity and youth involvement to an unprecedented degree.

Charlotte Karp, the Union of Jewish Students’ communications director, said the findings are proof that British Jewry’s two decades of investment in youth groups and Jewish student societies on campus "is paying excellent dividends."

“By placing trust and investment in students, we are developing the present and future leadership of Anglo Jewry," Karp said.

The survey found that the concerns of Jewish students generally matched those of non-Jewish students — grades, jobs after graduation and "relationship issues" occupied the top three spots.

In questions on Jewish concerns, 38 percent of respondents said they were "very" or "fairly worried" about campus anti-Israel sentiment, and 21 percent reported concerns about campus anti-Semitism.

Forty-two percent reported witnessing or experiencing an anti-Semitic incident between October 2010 and the time of the survey.

“If the community did not make an effort to combat these things, the situation could be far worse," Karp said. "The fact that it is not a major concern is actually a credit to the longstanding efforts of UJS and other communal bodies that deal with these issues and shows they are managing the situation very well."

Amy Philip, deputy director of the Pears Foundation, said it’s important not to look just at the anti-Semitic experiences but about the “wider experience of students and the positive ways in which they are relating to their Jewish identity."

The survey found that most Jewish students at British universities do not hide their religion, with 59 percent reporting being "always open" and 39 percent "sometimes open" about it.

Jonathan Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, said the survey paints a portrait of an "engaged and largely quite committed generation" of young British Jews — even if their Jewish identity isn’t breaking the mold.

"They don’t come across as a group that’s particularly playful or creative with their Jewish identity," he said. "We found a generation of people that are replicating the Jewishness they were brought up with rather than changing it."

While American Jewish surveys of Jewish life appear to be going more local – the decennial National Jewish Population Survey has been discontinued – Philip said that national research of this sort is valuable to British Jewry.

"For those who are making decisions about where to put their resources on campus, this is providing some really useful information so they can base their strategies on data from the survey," she said.

Philip said the unsurprising nature of some of the findings — for example, that students who are more engaged as teens are more likely to stay engaged at university — does not detract from their survey’s significance.

"There was no sensational headline from the research," she said. "It’s just a very rich portrait of who Jewish students on campus are, what they are doing and what is important to them."

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