Oxford students set themselves up as censors

Mike Cushman

St Peter’s College, Oxford Student Committee (their JCR) agreed a hostile and inaccurate motion about a College invitation to Ken Loach to lecture on film-making . It attempts to use the IHRA working definition of antisemitism to justify censorship of one of Britain’s leading artistic figures.

Most belligerently, the students take the wide circulation of allegations that Loach’s statements in support of Palestinian Rights are antisemitic as proof of their accuracy. It is striking that they do not bother to quote anything they believe is offensive and argue for their belief; in their eyes Loach is guilty because his detractors claim he is.

St Peter’s College

They misquote the IHRA definition and fail to note that what they do quote are examples of what may, depending on context, be antisemitic. They reduce the process of guilt to the simple matching of something, which they do not bother to state, to phrases that they misquote. The definition refers to   ‘a State of Israel is a racist endeavour’ not ‘the state of Israel’ a distinction we would hope students who aspire to rule us would recognise. Anyway, pointing to the manifest racist acts and laws of Israel does not amount declaring the State, of itself, to be a racist endeavour; a distinction often ignored in the hunt for antisemitic statements .

Linking Loach to the other three examples has no basis in anything other than the Israel apologists’ demonisation of anyone who criticises Israel.

The arrogance of the motion is exemplified by: ‘Put the burden of proving Loach’s antisemitism onto Jewish Peterites when this is a matter of record, not opinion’. As we have said the allegations are a matter of record, the establishment of accuracy is not: merely restating them does not prove them.

Loach’s films attack the systemic inequality personified by the privileges granted to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. it is regrettable that St Peter’s JCR believes that allowing their fellow students to learn from a critique of that inequality is something they wish to prevent. Loach’s films expose British injustice; the actions of these students does the same.

Demanding that a University limits one of its fundamental principles, Freedom of Speech, should always be an extreme step. One that must be rooted in a detailed and evidenced justification not in rhetoric and assertion.

The JCR motion

The JCR notes that:
1. Ken Loach has a history of blatant antisemitism. Per the IHRA
definition of antisemitism, Loach has repeatedly made comments
a. Allude to ‘…the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews
controlling the media, economy, government or other societal
b. ‘Accus[e] the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing
or exaggerating the Holocaust.’
c. ‘…[claim] that the State of Israel is a racist endeavour’
d. ‘[draw] comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the
2. The leadership of St Peter’s College, when meeting Jewish students
concerned about the impact of the platforming of someone with such
abhorrent views:
a. Claimed to be unaware of Loach’s past comments, despite their
being widely reported in the media and widely accessible online
b. Sought to downplay the prospect of Loach’s invitation being
actively harmful to the college community, suggesting that the
event featuring him would ‘set aside’ the controversy
c. Asked Jewish Peterites not to view College as a place hostile to
Jewish students since this would result in more discomfort
d. Pushed Jewish Peterites to explain why downplaying the
Holocaust is ‘always’ unequivocally antisemitic
e. Put the burden of proving Loach’s antisemitism onto Jewish
Peterites when this is a matter of record, not opinion
f. Suggested that St Peter’s did not have a problem with
antisemitism on account of the previous Master being Jewish
g. Refused to disinvite Loach lest a PR fallout occur
h. Refused to commit to taking any concrete steps to minimise the
hurt that his invitation would inevitably cause.
3. The leadership of St Peter’s College issued a statement on social media
on Monday afternoon which:
a. Failed to apologise for the entirely avoidable distress caused to
Jewish students by its mishandling of this issue
b. Sought to excuse Loach’s antisemitism by pointing out that he
had been invited to College many times before
c. Failed to outline any steps which could be taken to avoid similar
situations occurring in the future
4. Scores of British Jewish organisations have condemned St Peter’s
College for its invitation of Ken Loach, its failure to engage with
Jewish students and its refusal to apologise, including but not limited
to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Union of Jewish Students
and Oxford University JSoc
5. St Peter’s College, unlike many other colleges, failed to mark
Holocaust Remembrance Day this year.

This JCR believes that:
l. St Peter’s College failed in its duty of care to Jewish students in
inviting a known apologist for antisemitism without prior student
2. The College’s failure to apologise for its insensitive and ignorant
handling of Jewish students’ concerns caused even more harm to
Jewish students who were left feeling antagonised and unwelcome
3. The Master’s and College’s statements to students and the public added
fuel to the fire
4. It is impossible to separate Ken Loach’s filmmaking from his views,
including his offensive history of antisemitic remarks
5. St Peter’s College has failed to live by its commitment to ‘stand against
all forms of discrimination’
6. A ‘free and open academic community’ is mutually exclusive with the
platforming of individuals whose bigoted views cause active harm to
others on account of their protected characteristics.

This JCR:
1. Urges all students to boycott this event so as not to lend credence and
authority to the views of a noted antisemite, and to prevent their further
2. Condemns in the strongest terms the College leadership’s decision to
go ahead with this event, disregarding the concerns and welfare of
Jewish students in favour of preventing a ‘PR disaster’
3. Deplores in the strongest terms the College’s and Master’s
inconsiderate and insensitive response to such concerns, noting that
such a response caused even greater suffering
4. Offers its most sincere apologies on behalf of the College to all
Jewish students, whether Peterites or not, and to anyone whom the
College leadership’s ineptitude has caused distress and pain
5. Pledges its active support to all Jewish students who have been let
down by St Peter’s and by the University, and
6. Stands in solidarity with Jewish students at St Peter’s and in Oxford
in the face of endemic antisemitism more broadly.

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