Lord Mann is Wrong

I was deeply disappointed to read Lord Mann’s view that the IHRA definition of antisemitism should not be used to assess the suitability of external speakers at Universities. University authorities are supposed to carry out a risk assessment on all external speakers. Racism – and antisemitism is racism – should surely be a part of that assessment and the IHRA definition is the yardstick of racism against Jews. Mann argues that Jewish students should not ‘be afraid of democratic debate’. That misses the point. Jewish students – or any other students – should not be put in a ‘gun at head’ position whereby either they challenge an antisemitic speaker or they do nothing. Challenging an antisemitic speaker is not just a matter of waiting patiently until the Chairperson calls you to ask your question. For a start it’s hit and miss (and often worse) as to whether you are called to ask your question. Then there is the runup and the aftermath. If the meeting involves Israel – and let’s face it, that’s what’s being debated here – and you voice your concerns, you will be stigmatised as an extremist, a fascist and possibly a supporter of baby killers. This Hobson’s Choice should not be part of a University education and it is certainly not why students pay £9000 a year for tuition. Moreover it leads to universities like SOAS which are virtually Jew-free.

Lord Mann even suggests that one reason why antisemitic speakers should not be banned is because it would increase the chance of pro-Israel speakers being banned. This makes the unforgivable mistake of assuming moral equivalence between the two. And it is cowardly. The correct response is to defend the right of pro-Israel speakers.

Lord Mann’s stance is utterly naïve.

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Addendum: A number of JCRs (=college student associations) in Oxford have passed motions in support of the Jewish students who protested at the invitation to Ken Loach from Professor Judith Buchanan, Master of St Peter’s College (the event was on 8 February). Below is an extract from the Worcester College motion.

This is what happens when antisemitic speakers are platformed:

  • Jewish students asked to justify why Holocaust relativism/denial/minimisation is antisemitc
  • Jewish students asked to ‘prove’ antisemitism
  • Absurd insulting arguments in defence of the antisemite (‘The previous Master was Jewish’)
  • Fear of a ‘PR fallout’ if the antisemite is cancelled.

Professor Judith Buchanan is an absolute disgrace. If she had any self-respect she would apologise and resign.

Addendum 2: I emailed Senior Common Room Members at St Peter’s to explain what had happened and suggest that an independent investigation needs to be set up into the organisation of the Loach meeting and Profesor Buchanan’s response to the Jewish students. Here is the response I received from Professor Christopher Foot: