Cambridge prof accused of ‘Jewish conspiracy trope’ by leading historian

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Cambridge prof accused of ‘Jewish conspiracy trope’ by leading historian

David Abulafia hits out at Priyamvada Gopal over her claim he colluded with two Jewish student journalists in an interview attacking her.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Left: Professor Priyamvada Gopal (Wikipedia / Author: The Laura Flanders Show/ Source /(CC BY 3.0)). Right: David Abulafia (Wikipedia/ Source: Flickr: abulafia2
Author: Holbergprisen/ (CC BY 2.0))
Left: Professor Priyamvada Gopal (Wikipedia / Author: The Laura Flanders Show/ Source /(CC BY 3.0)). Right: David Abulafia (Wikipedia/ Source: Flickr: abulafia2 Author: Holbergprisen/ (CC BY 2.0))

A senior Cambridge University professor has been accused of using an “antisemitic Jewish conspiracy trope” by the leading historian David Abulafia – as a row between the two academics intensified.

Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of post colonial literature, is accused of expressed an anti-Jewish slur by appearing to suggest that Abulafia had colluded with the student newspaper Varsity, in an interview attacking her.

Jewish News was told last week how the Cambridge University Jewish Society had issued a statement condemning Gopal over her claim that two Jewish journalists working for Varsity had been behind an interview with Abulafia which criticised her.

Gopal tweeted that the interview stemmed from an earlier article she had written that criticised the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Prof Abulafia, who is Jewish and was formerly chair of Cambridge’s history department, has responded by telling The Times: “I’m not trying to get Gopal sacked but she’s clearly completely out of control.

“In a series of tweets she claimed that the student newspaper journalist I spoke to was part of a conspiracy.

“Both he and I are Jewish and we are all familiar with the antisemitic Jewish conspiracy trope – she even referenced guidelines designed to stop hate speech around the Holocaust.

“She [Gopal] is a woke warrior and this dissection of language just creates more division – now we are calling people who say something positive offensive.

“It’s like Alice in Wonderland and we’ve gone through the looking glass where everything is upside down.

“I have thought about legal action – I have lots of lawyers in my family and friends so we’ll see.”

The row began after Abulafia wrote an article lamenting the acquittal of the “Colston Four”in a High Court trial earlier this month.

Gopal then wrote an attack on Abulafia – particularly over the use of the word “eloquent”, to describe David Olusoga, a black TV documentary presenter.

A column written by Jewish student journalist Sam Rubenstein then branded Gopal’s comments as a “disgrace.”

Prof Gopal then wrote a series of posts on social media that appeared to suggest collusion between Rubenstein and another student journalist who she said had links with the “liberal media” and Prof Abulafia, and claimed the paper had “serious conflicts of interest.”

The Cambridge University Jewish Society responded by accusing Prof Gopal of making “baseless and damaging accusations against two Jewish student journalists…[and echoed] historic tropes about media control.”

Jewish News spoke to one of the two student journalists who expressed shock at the lecturer’s attempt to claim the Varsity article was a response to her earlier critique of IHRA.

It also emerged that of the two students was actually an opponent of IHRA themselves – on free speech libertarian grounds.

The other had once signed a petition in support of adopting the definition – but they dismissed claims they could be described as a “lobbyist” for IHRA on the strength of one act in support of it some time ago.

In a scathing response to Gopal’s comments, the Cambridge University Jewish Society issued a statement saying: “Cambridge University Jewish Society stands in solidarity with our members who have been subject to unfounded conspiracy theories and online intimidation.

“Priyamvada Gopal, a senior academic, with a Twitter following of over 80,000 people, has used that platform to make a number of baseless and damaging accusations against two Jewish student journalists.”

The JSoc added: “Unfounded, conspiratorial attacks on our members are unacceptable and we will always advocate fearlessly on their behalf.

“Jewish students must be able to feel safe at Cambridge and feel that they are supported by their tutors and supervisors

“UJS has always acted in good faith when advocating for a robust complaints procedure to tackle antisemitism. We have always had an open door policy and have had numerous meetings with academics who are critical of our approach.

“If Professor Gopal would like to change course and desist from tweeting conspiratorial attacks on Jewish students our door is always open.”

Gopal has spoken about having family roots in India and is vocal on Twitter about race. In October, she was stopped from delivering a lecture in Whitehall because of remarks she made about Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Responding to the latest row over her comments about the Jewish students in a statement on Twitter Gopal said: “It is a matter of puzzlement and grave regret that Varsity, a Cambridge student newspaper, has published misleading and false claims about my words that have predictably subjected me, yet again, to a concerted racist and misogynist attack across the British right-wing press who repeat these inaccuracies.”

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