Contemporary antisemitism should be taught in schools - editorial

It is one thing to teach about the Holocaust in schools; it’s quite another to educate students against hatred of all forms, including antisemitism. 

John Mann leaves the British Cabinet Office in Whitehall, in central London, Jan. 31, 2019.  (photo credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
John Mann leaves the British Cabinet Office in Whitehall, in central London, Jan. 31, 2019.
(photo credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The UK government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, Lord John Mann, recommended in a comprehensive report published on Monday that British secondary schools should be required to teach about contemporary antisemitism in addition to the Holocaust. 

As Jewish world correspondent Zvika Klein reported in The Jerusalem Post, the report – titled “Anti-Jewish Hatred: Tackling Antisemitism in the UK 2022 Renewing the Commitment” – comes amid growing concern about the spread of anti-Jewish hatred among young people, much of it promoted on social media platforms.

“This year, Jewish girls and boys have been abused and threatened on public transport, at school and on the street because they are identified as being Jewish,” wrote Mann, a former Labour MP. “If young people are taught about contemporary antisemitism at school, are less exposed to it online and are deterred from committing race hate because they are more likely to feel the force of the law, then the UK will be in a position to build substantially on the progress made as a result of the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s past recommendations.”

“If young people are taught about contemporary antisemitism at school, are less exposed to it online and are deterred from committing race hate because they are more likely to feel the force of the law, then the UK will be in a position to build substantially on the progress made as a result of the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s past recommendations.”

Lord John Mann

Reaching record levels in 2021, more hate crimes than ever are being inflicted on members of the Jewish community despite significant efforts to tackle them over the past 15 years. A survey by the Henry Jackson Society think tank in July found that antisemitic incidents at schools in England have almost tripled during the past five years. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests it sent to 1,135 secondary schools found incidents spiked from 60 in 2017 to 164 in 2022.

“Above all, this office would like to see the UK government work with the developed nations in ensuring that all secondary schools across the UK should teach their pupils about contemporary antisemitism with appropriate resources,” the report states. “A renewed and concerted effort is also required across all UK universities and colleges to make Jewish students safe and feel safe on campus, and the report includes a set of new recommendations to drive it.”

Official portrait of Lord Mann (credit: ROGER HARRIS/CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)Official portrait of Lord Mann (credit: ROGER HARRIS/CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Teaching about the Holocaust isn't enough

While Mann commended the “great strides” made in promoting greater awareness of genocide, he said antisemitism “can take many forms” and “it is not enough to teach about the Holocaust.” 

As Klein pointed out, Mann’s latest recommendations follow significant progress that has been said to have been made in recent years in combating antisemitism in the UK and worldwide, resulting from two landmark reports published by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism in 2006 and 2015. 

One reason for the new report, supported by valued input from stakeholders across the country, was to identify what more needs to be done.

“If this scale of incidence among young people is not tackled, then we are storing up potentially serious problems for the future as well as for the present,” Mann wrote.

Among the recommendations made by Mann is that school leadership teams should be offered guidance from the government on how to deal with incidents of antisemitic hate. This should include how to report incidents that did not happen at school but involved either the targeting of students or students as perpetrators.

A British government spokesperson said in response to the report: “Antisemitism, as with all forms of bullying and hatred, is abhorrent and has no place in our education system. The atrocities of the Holocaust are a compulsory part of national curriculum for history at key stage 3, and we support schools to construct a curriculum that enables the discussion of important issues such as antisemitism.”

We believe Mann’s findings and recommendations should be taken seriously, not just by the British government but by other governments in Europe and around the world.

It is one thing to teach about the Holocaust in schools; it’s quite another to educate students against hatred of all forms, including antisemitism. 

As Mann so elegantly put it, the UK government and others should “act on my new calls for action before this form of racism poisons the minds of many more young people.”