York law student claims antisemitism on the increase at UK universities

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

“I feel quite uncomfortable on campus, it’s quite intimidating”

Facebook (Zachary Confino)
Facebook (Zachary Confino)

A law student has gone public with allegations that antisemitism is rife in UK universities, and that he himself is a victim of shocking online anti-Jewish abuse.

Zachary Confino — a third year law student at the University of York — has revealed terrible incidents of name-calling and abuse that he and other Jewish students have received from anonymous trolls. He recalls that one told him that “Hitler was onto something”, while another called the Allen & Overy open day-goer a “Stupid Israeli Twat”.

Understandably, he was at first “shocked and overwhelmed” to receive these hate-fuelled messages — and they still make him feel “quite uncomfortable on campus” today. The aspiring commercial litigation lawyer commented:

I thought I was in a place where people were educated, a place where they are tolerant…essentially a place were people would never say ‘Hitler was right’. It was a big realisation to see that the world isn’t like that, and I’m surrounded by intolerant people. It made me extremely upset and angry.

Even more problematic for the student — who has completed a work placement at national outfit Bond Dickinson — is what he calls a “lack of support” from university services. Though he claims the attacks have continued and in fact intensified this year, Confino — who famously got into a very public spat with Jeremy Corbyn’s son earlier this year — says that both the uni and the SU have failed to support him and his fellow Jewish students. The former Thomas More Chambers mini pupil has said that the meetings he has had with both institutions have not been very fruitful. He explained:

We entered into a debate on what is and what isn’t antisemitism with people who clearly don’t understand what Jewish hate is. It’s adding insult to injury. I’m experiencing antisemitism and then getting told it isn’t antisemitism.

Both York University and the SU have issued statements on the issue, broadly denying that they have adopted a blasé approach to the matter. The former had this to say:

Colleagues in the Student Support team have had a number of meetings with Zachary Confino since last summer to discuss his concerns and have offered him pastoral support. We make all students aware of our harassment policy and the formal student complaints procedure.

While Ben Leatham, the president of York’s Students’ Union, explained:

At the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) it is our job to support and represent the full diversity of the student population. We take any allegation about discrimination in any form very seriously and endeavour to promote an inclusive environment at all times.

However, Simon Myerson QC, of St Pauls Chambers, is less than convinced:

I was Chair of the Union of Jewish Students 1985-86, when Sunderland Polytechnic banned its Jewish Society, so yes I experienced antisemitism. But at that time NUS (led by Phil Woolas) and NOLS (led by John Mann MP) were appalled. Going on what I read that is not a universal NUS reaction today.

In November last year the QC was involved in a twitter row with a criminology student and he is increasingly concerned about the prevalence of such incidents:

Antisemitism is on the rise. It’s a malign hatred, which the left, as part of which I class myself, is currently not taking seriously enough, in part because they regard Jews as powerful (itself a stereotype) and thus not really being discriminated against. It’s an irony that much ‘safe space’ discussion doesn’t recognise the effect on Jewish kids. Vice Chancellors would appear to have a duty of care. I’d be interested to know how some of them think they are discharging it.

The story has generated extensive comments on The Tab, where it was originally reported, many of which bolster Confino’s argument by being less than sympathetic to his plight.

One particularly reprehensible comment read “Raus Juden” — the Nazi slogan meaning “Jews Out”, and the title given to perhaps the most morally repugnant boardgame in history. A cross between Halma and Monopoly, the object of the game was to move small figures wearing pointed Jewish medieval hats around the board towards “collection points” for deportation to Palestine. Written on the centre of the board was “If you manage to see off 6 Jews, you’ve won a clear victory!” It was brought out in Nazi Germany in 1936 and even there and then sold very poorly.