Election of Abu-Sittah as Glasgow University rector ‘sets chilling precedent’

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Election of Abu-Sittah as Glasgow University rector ‘sets chilling precedent’

Jewish students speak of profound apprehension after doctor who urged Palestinians to ‘die in dignity’ after 7 October wins 80 percent share of vote

Ghassan Abu-Sittah said a vote for him would be a vote ‘against the genocide in Gaza’. Picture: inara.org/board
Ghassan Abu-Sittah said a vote for him would be a vote ‘against the genocide in Gaza’. Picture: inara.org/board

British-Palestinian activist doctor Ghassan Abu-Sittah has been elected rector of Glasgow University, setting what one group calls “a chilling precedent” for Jewish students.

The group representing Jewish students in the city has spoken of their “profound apprehension”.

Dr Abu-Sittah, a former medical student at the university, takes up the post on 1 April. His campaign video had said a vote for him would be a vote “against the genocide in Gaza” and “against the blood money that Glasgow University is making as profit from this war”. He has also said he is intent on removing the university’s adherence to the internationally accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Glasgow Jewish Society told Jewish News the election of Abu-Sittah despite his past eulogies for PFLP (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), terrorists and his pledge to redefine antisemitism raises “significant concerns”.

It added of his aim to reject the IHRA definition: “It is crucial to recognise that Jewish students have the inherent right to define their own experiences of oppression. As the representative Jewish student voice at the University of Glasgow, we express profound apprehension for the well-being of Jewish students within the university.

“A campus environment where the appointed rector seeks to redefine antisemitism against the express wishes of those directly affected by it undermines Jewish students’ sense of security. Jewish students, like all students, have the right to pursue their education free from discrimination, harassment, or intimidation.”

In the poll of students, Abu-Sittah, who is listed at clinics in London as a plastic surgeon and who travelled to Gaza on 9 October to work as a trauma surgeon, gained 80 percent of first-preference votes in the election to a post whose brief is to represent students at the University Court, the institution’s governing body. He received 4,172 votes to 350 for comedian Susan McCabe, 234 for Lady Rae (the current rector) and 430 for Paul Sweeney MSP.

The rector-elect received support and congratulations from the Scottish organisation StudentActionFE and from Glasgow University Palestine Society, which follows several extremist groups on social media, including the Electronic Intifada.

In November, Jewish News revealed that immediately after Hamas’ massacre on 7 October in southern Israel, Abu-Sittah urged Palestinians to “fight back and die in dignity”. The London-based surgeon promoted a post on 8 October that claimed civilians in Gaza should fight back as they were “going to die anyway”.

He has said Glasgow University is profiting from the Israel–Hamas war through its ownership of shares in the British multinational BAE Systems.

In a statement on Wednesday, Glasgow University said it had abided by the legal process set out under the Universities (Scotland) Acts with regard to the nomination and conduct of the election of the rector.

It added: “All candidates were reminded of the responsibilities and duties of the rector, once elected, including adhering to the code of conduct for members of Court and upholding the university’s policies and values with respect to equality, diversity and inclusion.”

StandWithUs UK, which works on education about Israel and antisemitism, said that it stood with Jewish students at Glasgow in expressing dismay at Abu-Sittah’s election and that it was regrettable that positions of power at Glasgow University had become unnecessarily politicised. “We are alarmed to read reports published of Dr Abu-Sittah and his problematic history, including praising the terrorist leader Maher Al-Yamani and the terrorist Ahmed Nasr Jarrar,” it added.

“The elevation of this man to such a high position at Glasgow University sets a chilling precedent for Jewish students and is a sad reflection of the status quo on campus.”

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