Oxford anti-Semitism allegations highlight wider problem

UPDATE 21/03/2016: Brahma Mohanty, the OULC Disabilities Officer has resigned his position, accusing the society of forcing members “to subscribe to a radical ideology of division and isolation”.

Mohanty took on roles with the university club to promote “access and diversity”, but now believes this ethos is not shared by other OULC members. He cited the passing of the Israel Apartheid Week motion as an attempt to purge the membership and has stated that the club’s “image has been severely tarnished”.

UPDATE 18/02/2016: Yesterday, Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, called for an investigation in a letter to the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University. He said: “There can be no justification for attacks on Jewish students, and no tolerance for institutionalised racism.”

Former Labour Leader Ed Miliband also weighed into the discussion and has postponed his talk at OULC. A spokesperson for Mr Miliband said: “Ed is deeply disturbed to hear of reports of anti-Semitism in the Oxford University Labour Club…It is right that the executive of the club has roundly condemned the comments and fully co-operates with the Labour Students’ investigation.”

“A large proportion of both Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews”, says Alex Chalmers, who has resigned as Co-Chair of OULC this week.

Announcing this on Facebook, Chalmers claimed members of the club executive regularly used the term “Zio”, and that a former Co-Chair had said “most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf”.

In addition, he said senior members of the society had expressed their “solidarity” with the proscribed terrorist group Hamas, “defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”.

Since Chalmers’ resignation, other students have reported additional allegations to Oxford University Jewish Society, which have included:

Claims several people, all of whom have been on the club committee, have been known to sing the song ‘Rockets over Tel Aviv’ and expressed support for indiscriminate attacks on civilians;

One member stating it was not anti-Semitic to allege the existence of a “New York – Tel Aviv axis” that rigs elections , and said “we should be aware of the influence wielded over elections by high net-worth Jewish individuals’;

One member, then on the club committee, stating all Jews should be expected to publically denounce Zionism and Israel, and that the club should not associate with any Jew who failed to do so;

One member of the club being formally disciplined by their College for organising a group of students to harass a Jewish student and to shout “filthy Zionist” whenever they saw her;

One member arguing on the club Facebook page that Hamas was justified in its policy of killing Jewish civilians and claiming all Jews were legitimate targets. This was defended by several other members, including two former co-chairs, as “a legitimate point clumsily expressed”.

While the scale of these allegations is shocking, here at Student Rights we have long argued that anti-Semitism is a serious problem on our campuses.

In the last year, we have logged a number of posts made to student Palestine Society Facebook pages which repeated anti-Semitic tropes, including comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

These have included University College London Friends of Palestine Society claiming Israel was “illegally harvesting organs” from the “bodies of murdered Palestinians”, and a post on the Glasgow University Palestine Society Facebook page saying “the mainstream media is owned by rabid Zionists”.

In July 2014, meanwhile, Student Rights reported on post made to the King’s College London Action Palestine Society Facebook page which complained of British politicians being “on the Jewish payroll”

In addition, student social media pages have seen numerous inflammatory postings about attacks on Israelis by Palestinians in recent months.

In October, a post on a University of Cambridge Palestine Society page claimed a young woman had been shot by Israeli soldiers simply so they could remove her head scarf, while Glasgow University Palestine Society shared a video purporting to show Israelis covering a dead Palestinian in pig intestines.

These posts appeared at the same time as Palestine Societies at the University of Leeds and London School of Economics held vigils for terrorists killed carrying out attacks on civilians, including Alaa Abu Jamaal, who drove his car into pedestrians before hacking a 60 year old Rabbi to death.

Given the prevalence of such posts, it could be argued that Chalmers’ suggestion it is just the student left in Oxford that has a problem with Jews underestimates the issue.

Until student societies face up to this and accept there has been a blurring of the boundaries between pro-Palestine activism and anti-Semitism on too many campuses, the problem will continue to exist, and universities must take serious disciplinary action against any students found to be sharing such material.

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