Image source, Getty Images
By Harry Farley
BBC religious affairs journalist
Schools in the UK should teach about antisemitism as part of a wider drive to tackle anti-Jewish hatred, a report from a government adviser says.
Lord John Mann, a Labour MP who is the UK’s antisemitism adviser, is urging ministers to work with social media companies to eradicate hatred online.
It comes after reports of antisemitic incidents reached a record high in the UK last year.
The government said they supported schools discussing antisemitism.
The Holocaust is a compulsory part of the curriculum in secondary schools but learning about modern antisemitism is not.
“It is not enough to teach about the Holocaust,” the report said, and urged ministers to guarantee funding for schools to teach about contemporary anti-Jewish hatred.
Efforts to promote a more diverse curriculum reflecting the legacy of colonialism must “recognise that all forms of racism should be addressed”, the report said.
It cited evidence suggesting that of more than 600 antisemitic incidents in the UK after a spate of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2021, a quarter took place in schools and universities.
Lord Mann was made the UK’s first independent adviser on antisemitism in 2019. His report, Anti-Jewish Hatred, was prompted by the rising reported incidents of anti-Jewish hate crimes in the UK.
He said social media had “led to an exponential increase in online hate and falsehoods reaching a mass audience of all ages with limited means of restriction or clarification”.
“The growing spread of antisemitism among young people should be a matter of deep concern to all of us, not least because it is often leading to hate crime and violence against members of the Jewish community, including schoolchildren.”
The report cites a survey of 1,315 secondary schools in England, carried out by the Henry Jackson Society think tank in July, which found antisemitic incidents recorded rose from 60 in 2017 to 164 in 2022.
The National Education Union, which represents teachers, backed the report’s call for all secondaries to be required to teach about contemporary antisemitism.
“Government should act on this recommendation, involving teachers in the work,” said Mary Bousted, the joint head of the union.
“But it must treat the fight against racism as indivisible. When ministers and MPs attack asylum seekers, they create a hospitable environment for xenophobia and actively obstruct the work of schools in teaching against race hate, including antisemitism.”
Lord Mann also said social media companies should be forced to identify users who promote hate crime anonymously.
Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and his lighter approach to content moderation was a “game-changer”, Lord Mann said, and added urgency to the need to act.
Twitter’s hateful conduct policy says it is “committed to combating abuse motivated by hatred, prejudice or intolerance, particularly abuse that seeks to silence the voices of those who have been historically marginalized”.
The UK government has said the Online Safety Bill, which is designed to regulate social media and tech giants, will require tech companies to tackle harmful content posted anonymously.
Ministers recently removed measures from the bill which would have forced big technology platforms to take down material that was considered harmful, but was not illegal.
The Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the government was not changing the legislation relating to children. And she said adults would still have more control over the material they saw online.
Lord Mann’s report makes a number of other recommendations including improving safety for Jewish students on university campuses, a review into barriers to reporting hate crime incidents, and an investigation into why so few prosecutions of antisemitic hate crime take place.
A government spokesperson said: “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.
“The Online Safety Bill will mean that what is unacceptable offline is also unacceptable online. Where the abuse is illegal, social media companies will need to take robust action to tackle it.”