Jewish students disappointed over lack of action on ‘Israel lobby’ comment

Written by on September 4, 2020

The University of Warwick has ruled that a lecturer who taught students that accusations of antisemitism within the Labour Party were perpetrated by the ‘Israel lobby’ was not being antisemitic.

Warwick University (photo credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)

Warwick University

(photo credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)

Jewish students were left “extremely disappointed” this week after the University of Warwick, UK, ruled that comments by a lecturer engaging a well-known antisemitic trope during a lecture constituted “free speech.” Calls have been made for the university to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. 

The comments came last November in a lecture by Dr Goldie Osuri titled “Viral and Transnational (Palestine),” in which she said: “the idea that the Labour Party is antisemitic is very much an Israeli lobby kind of idea, the idea that you want to discredit the Labour Party because there is support for Palestine among some members of the Labour Party.”

Notes accompanying the lecture read: “Palestinians are entirely entitled to resist and oppose the occupation and theft of their homeland by any means they deem necessary,” with examples of resistance cited including: “poems/songs/art/organised activism or militancy.” Other slides appeared to suggest that Israel had influenced the media outlets including the BBC to construct a narrative conflating all Palestinians with Hamas. 

Dr Osuri later clarified to student newspaper The Warwick Tab: “My statement in the lecture regarding the claims of rampant antisemitism in the Labour party as an ‘Israeli lobby kind of idea’ is a reference to Israeli attempts to infiltrate British politics documented by Al Jazeera.

“This ‘Israeli lobby kind of idea’ is a reference to the attempt to smear any debate or discussion regarding Palestinian self-determination and human rights or criticism of the state of Israel as ‘antisemitism'” 

She added that she believed antisemitism is “absolutely wrong in any form” and that she had “explicitly explained the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the lecture.”

The Jewish Israeli Society (JISoc) Warwick and Union of Jewish Students (UJS) responded to the lecture by filing a complaint, saying at the time: “There can be no excuse from an academic at such a prestigious university to spread conspiracy theories associated with classic antisemitism … We are also appalled to hear Dr Osuri share support for acts of violence against civilians perpetrated by terrorist organisations.” 

The matter has prompted calls for the University to adopt the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism, which explicitly states that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” is an example of antisemitism. 

In a debate at the Houses of Parliament in March, Jonathan Gullis MP highlighted the case, telling fellow members of Parliament that the university’s failure to adopt the IHRA’s definition was an “absolute abomination.”

A formal investigation by the head of the department in January found that Osuri’s comments “opened up the space for dialogue and discussion as would be expected in an academic environment and that the statement made in the lecture holds within the principles and values of tolerance and free speech” – a decision labelled “immensely disappointing” by Warwick JISoc president Angus Taylor, who appealed the decision. 

However, in a letter received by Taylor this week, the University’s Provost, Professor Christine Ennew, wrote that there were “insufficient grounds to progress the complaint,” and that the process for doing so was now exhausted. 

In a statement posted to Facebook, JISoc Warwick wrote: “We’re incredibly disappointed to see the University of Warwick failing to support Jewish students yet again. 

“Despite clear evidence of problems in the disciplinary proceedings, the University has decided that they know better than Jewish students and communal leaders on what is antisemitic, and come to a conclusion which does nothing to reduce the worries of Jewish students on campus.”

“It’s only become clearer how important it is for minority students to be able to define their own oppression, and for the university to adopt specific definitions of racism like IHRA.

JISoc officer Toby Kunin told Jewish News: “Goldie Osuri’s suggestion that allegations of anti-Jewish racism in the Labour Party are ‘an Israeli lobby kind of idea’ is a deeply antisemitic trope.

“The University’s refusal to investigate this, never mind the clear conflict of interest at Stage Two, adds further insult to injury for Jewish students at Warwick. It is becoming undoubtedly clear that the University is institutionally antisemitic.” 

UJS campaigns officer Bradley Langer said the university had “failed to deal with accusations of antisemitism on their campus,” adding: “This shows the importance of why all universities need to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, in order to protect Jewish students on their campus from anti-Jewish racism.”

The two societies plan to escalate the matter to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.

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