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Police patrols in schools won’t solve antisemitism

Do schools need police surveillance? Credit: Getty

October 31, 2023 - 7:45am

As the war between Israel and Hamas sparks a rise in social tensions and antisemitism, in the UK, there have been calls on the police to do more. The latest idea is for the Met to be a more visible presence in schools where “community tensions” are felt to be running high, to gather information about potential trouble and, presumably, to deter it.

Jewish schools, particularly in London, have been targeted by threats and vandalism since the 7 October attacks. Some have responded by closing for specific days, while others advised students not to travel in recognisable uniforms. Already security-conscious, those schools are no doubt working even more closely with police to protect those in their care.

The proposal to increase police presence in other schools, however, is harder to justify. Certainly, there are communities and areas in which antisemitism has long been endemic. That this has not been adequately challenged before now is a stain on Britain’s claim to be a liberal, tolerant, pluralist society. But increased surveillance of children and young people, in schools where they should be learning to get along with their fellow citizens, is the wrong response.

What will children and teenagers learn from an increased police presence, observing their conversations and behaviour, and collecting information about them from their teachers? The obvious lesson is to confirm the narrative that they are the victims of a repressive state and a system biased against them. This is the very narrative that feeds the sense of grievance finding vocal, and occasionally violent, expression along lines that mirror the conflict in Israel and Gaza. It has been noted before that police officers tend to be posted in schools with more deprived students, and more students from minority-ethnic backgrounds. Those young people, who in many cases already feel unfairly targeted by law enforcement, are unlikely to be reassured by greater police presence.

Schools are already drawn into surveillance initiatives designed to alert police and security forces to potential radicalisation. The Prevent programme put a statutory duty on schools to report pupils to authorities if their words or behaviour suggest susceptibility to extreme or radical ideas or actions. Observation of students included their online activities, as well as their schoolwork and even class discussions. 

Prevent was criticised for stigmatising individuals who had not done anything criminal, all while failing to actually prevent some of them going on to commit murder. The killer of MP David Amess was referred to the programme, but was never considered a threat by security services. These services need to be aware of potential attacks on individuals or institutions, but uniformed police officers in school corridors seem unlikely to contribute to that intelligence gathering. 

Where tensions between pupils already run high, increased police presence may suppress public manifestation of those tensions within the institution, but do nothing to resolve them. Any students who are considering giving destructive or violent expression to their prejudices will find ways to conceal their views and plans from observation, which is surely not the lesson we want them to learn in school. 

Ultimately, we have failed to build a tolerant, pluralist culture. That is the root of the problem now finding expression in attacks on Jewish people and organisations. Putting more police officers in schools to stop teenagers and children giving voice to prejudices that we have allowed to fester is an abrogation of adult responsibilities, one which will do nothing to solve that problem.


Timandra Harkness presents the BBC Radio 4 series, FutureProofing and How To Disagree. Her book, Technology is Not the Problem, is published by Harper Collins.

TimandraHarknes

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Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 months ago

We didn’t fail “to build a tolerant, pluralist culture”. We imported people from intolerant non-pluralist cultures who wanted nothing to do with our “tolerant, pluralist culture”, and because we had a “tolerant, pluralist culture” we let them get away with it.
Tolerant, pluralist cultures are inherently unstable and temporary. Eventually, a group with the power and will to assert cultural dominance will prevail.

Last edited 8 months ago by Marcus Leach
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
8 months ago

Isn’t it ironic that those who thrust multiculturalism upon us now turn out to be the most racist?

Ann Lemal
Ann Lemal
5 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

What does this even mean?

R M
R M
8 months ago

Well, I agree with the author insofar as posting police officers in schools would be at best pointless and at worst counter-productive.

Ultimately, we have failed to build a tolerant, pluralist culture.

Yes, but we need to be clear about the fact that we have failed to build a tolerant, pluralist culture precisely because of how we as a society have enabled terms like “tolerance”, and thus a “tolerant society”, to be defined.
To put it briefly, the progressive reading of history, that there are oppressors and oppressed and you can reliably tell which is which by identifiers like skin colour, language, religion and proximity to western capitalism, only allows for tolerance in one direction. In the current crisis, Hamas’s murderous misogyny can be tolerated because they represent the oppressed. Whereas brutalised Jewish innocents don’t need any tolerance because they represent the oppressor.
Or to put it another way, it never occurs to the people currently calling for intifada against Jews that Jews are worthy of tolerance too, because for decades they’ve been told that tolerance is only about affirming the approved oppressed groups and Jews aren’t one of those.
Its been the work of decades of progressivism to get us to this position. I’ve no idea how it can be reversed.

Last edited 8 months ago by R M
Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

We missed the boat during the Satanic Verses fatwa in 1989.
That should have been the point where we jailed/deported people calling for – or even just supporting calls for – violence against a British citizen. We should also have been very clear that all glorification of jihad, fatwas etc would be met with severe punishment in the future
We should have rooted out and deported all members of proscribed Islamic organisations who had long sought refuge in Britain.
We should also have stopped all immigration from Pakistan, Iran, The Sahel and Arabia at that point. And imposed very strict visa checks for visitors with those passports.
We should have stopped allowing Arab investment into key industries and companies in Britain (and increased our own energy self-reliance with nuclear and later fracking).
We should also have pledged to disentangle ourselves wholly from the middle-east including not getting involved in wars over there.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda, I know. Perhaps it is not too late to start these things now.

Last edited 8 months ago by Matt M
Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

We hoped it would fizzle out in time and the agitators would become part of the establishment (see Sir Iqbal Socranie). But with a regime in Tehran dedicated to the destruction of that mysterious blob ‘the West ‘, our ongoing need for oil and to play international roles that exceed out limited military capabilities, never mind mass immigration, it’s all slowly disintegrated to the current point.

The author as usual points out how unuseful the Police are as if certain groups of the population are to be given a free pass and will thrive in their absence. Well, we left it to ‘community leaders’ and ignored industrial scale paedophilia for decades to spare their sensibilities so obviously that works (not).

Anybody who knows any Muslims knows they in general loathe Jews, so this is another cultural detail that’s been hiding in plain sight for ever.

If I were a Jew now, I can’t imagine what I’d be thinking or where I would imagine that I could go. Those videos from Dagestan with the mob (of mainly young men – aka refugees to the lefties when in boats) going on a Jew-hunt show what we’ve all known for ages; the oldest prejudice is back with a vengeance but it isn’t Adolf we need to be worried about.

Mrs R
Mrs R
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Anyone who understood islamism and its expansionist history and goal of a World caliphate knew that the threat would not ‘fizzle’.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
8 months ago

We (Brits) have built a tolerant, pluralist culture. Other cultures are available.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

“The obvious lesson is to confirm the narrative that they are the victims of a repressive state and a system biased against them.”

We are actually teaching children this very idea so I doubt police will affect their attitudes one way or another.

I have no idea if the police are needed, but their role is not to educate and foster tolerance. They are there to enforce the law. It’s about damn time they started doing it.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
8 months ago

“we have failed to build a tolerant, pluralist culture.”
Who is this “we”? Those in positions of power cleave to a “progressive” intolerant racist and divisive ideology they seek to impose through unconscious bias propaganda and similar divisive race based policies and an unprecedented level of imported “pluralism”. It is hardly surprising if the fruits of this is an intolerant pluralistic society.

That said the level of tolerance among the bulk of the population is in practice at an unprecedentedly high level despite the best efforts of the race-baiters.

Matt M
Matt M
8 months ago

By the way, whoever is responsible for the moderation software, the message “Awaiting for moderation” is nonsensical. It should be “Waiting for moderation” or “Awaiting moderation”. Please change it if you can.

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I would prefer “Awaiting moderating.”

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago

‘Ultimately, we have failed to build a tolerant, pluralist culture.’

Culture was used in the singular here….
Should we be trying to build one culture, or should we be trying to build many cultures?

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

So the logical endpoint of the tolerant, pluralist culture is the police state.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
8 months ago

Look up “RULE OF LAW”.

JP Martin
JP Martin
8 months ago

If only. Singapore looks a lot better than what’s happening where I live.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago

Will Private Eye running front covers insinuating that the Israeli plan is to kill everybody in Gaza fuel antisemitism?

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
8 months ago

One word is missing from this article.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
8 months ago

“Ultimately, we have failed to build a tolerant, pluralist culture.”
I disagree. I think we had gone a long way towards achieving this and had done a pretty good job of it.
The problem is that we have allowed those who aren’t tolerant or pluralistic to undermine those achievements.

JP Martin
JP Martin
8 months ago

These “community tensions” only ever seem to flow in one direction. The source of these problems is clear to everyone.

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

But increased surveillance of children and young people, in schools where they should be learning to get along with their fellow citizens, is the wrong response.

Quite so. Under ordinary conditions bullies still manage to torment their victims even when (if) the school has strong anti-bullying procedures. And if you think a school will willingly get involved in one ‘ethnic’ child bullying another then I think you will be disappointed. I don’t think a police presence will be of use – they will be stood down eventually.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

Oversimplistic and lacking nuance IMO to suggest any tensions indicative of a failure to be build a tolerant, pluralist culture. We clearly still have challenges and cannot be complacent but the overwhelming majority are tolerant and pluralistic – classic British values, and this is a much improved position than during my childhood. If anything the current middle east crisis may ‘surface’ attitudes we can then ‘call out’ and tackle.
Police at some school gates I don’t think does harm, and in fact send a signal that in this country we expect certain behaviours or the Law will intervene. I recognise their presence won’t eliminate the risk, but signals are still important.
Also struck by Mark Rowley’s comments last week or so that in fact our Laws do need some tightening if Police to better tackle hate speech and extremism. Tories, and Braverman of course as she’s responsible Minister here, got plenty of time to get this sorted if the ‘will’ before any GE. A test in fact of whether serious about addressing the issue, or just happy to do virtual signalling.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson
AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

I don’t believe we need tighter laws against ‘hate speech’ – that just sets division harder. What we really need is to enforce existing laws against speech inciting violence more stringently.
It is a delusion to imagine ‘more laws’ will achieve anything without the will to enforce existing ones.