Goldsmiths urges student union to ‘reconsider position’ on Hirsh antisemitism probe
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Goldsmiths urges student union to ‘reconsider position’ on Hirsh antisemitism probe

Statement follows announcement by Goldsmiths Student Union that they 'won't investigate' tweets by president about Jewish academic David Hirsh

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Goldsmiths University has urged its own Students’ Union to “reconsider their position” and “conduct an investigation” into allegations that tweets directed at Jewish academic David Hirsh were antisemitic.

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London, was responding to the Students’ Union’s insistence that it would not investigate social media posts from its outgoing president Sara Bafo, including one labelling the respected sociology lecturer Hirsh a “far right white supremacist”.

The Board of Deputies and Community Security Trust were amongst the communal groups to express support for Hirsh after Jewish News revealed details of the row.

Goldsmiths Students’ Union, which operates as an independent charitable body with it own policies and processes, had been asked by university chiefs last week to investigate whether Bafo’s tweets were “antisemitic in nature”.

But Ed Nedjari, chief executive of the Students’ Union, told Jewish News on Friday it “won’t investigate” the incident, claiming Bafo’s tweets are “protected as free speech”.

In a new statement, Goldsmiths University reaffirmed its position, stating: “We urge Goldsmiths Students’ Union to reconsider their position and conduct an investigation into these tweets.”

Hirsh, who has taught sociology at Goldsmiths since 2003, was initially targeted with slurs after he criticised the National Union of Students (NUS) “decolonise education” campaign claiming it had an “antisemitic edge”.

Bafo tweeted in March: “D*vid H*rsh is a far white supremacist.

“All you need to do is read his work and tweets and that’s all the confirmation needed.”

In another post earlier this month Bafo protested at the fact that she was facing an investigation from university management over her conduct and labelled Hirsh a “Zionist Goldsmiths academic”.

Friends and colleagues of Hirsh, who is refusing comment on the row, say he has been left incensed by the description of himself as a “far right white supremacist”, a slur he believes is close to labelling him as a Nazi.

The author of acclaimed scho-larly works such as Contem-porary Left Antisemitism, is also hurt by Bafo’s decision to tweet his first name and surname with an asterisk.

Colleagues say Hirsh, who recently founded the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, views this as a further attempt by the student leader to dehumanise him.

He also wrote recently on his website: “There is a hostile environment in our universities to Jews, to scholars and students of antisemitism, and to anyone challenging antisemitic scholarship.”

In a significant intervention, Larissa Kennedy, the outgoing president of the National Union of Students (NUS), tweeted that the calls for a probe into Bafo’s tweets was a “disgusting move from Goldsmiths, University of London”.

She added: “Masses of solidarity to Sara Bafo and every activist facing these threats in our movement.”

The NUS chief said black and brown student activists were facing “concerted suppression” from the government and universities, adding: “Let this be a message to every university and to government: the student movement will not be silenced.”

Insiders say the row goes “much deeper” than a dispute between Hirsh and the outgoing president.

Some Jewish academics and students are concerned that the NUS-backed ‘decolonise education’ campaign is too focused on criticism of Israel and on promotion of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) as an example of positive campaigning.

Hirsh, who has for decades been an outspoken campaigner against anti-Jewish racism on both the far-left and the far-right, had tweeted: “There is an antisemitic edge to official, institutional, university campaigns to ‘decolonise’ education.”

In her own post, Bafo tweeted her support of a claim made online by the outspoken black cultural activist Chardine Taylor Stone, who argued Hirsh was guilty of a “direct attack against Black and Brown activists”.

Taylor Stone added that Hirsh was responsible “racism and white supremacy cloaked in a guise where it presents itself as a victim”.

Hirsh and his supporters suggest that since the early 2000s there has been an “antisemitism inherent in the movement to boycott Israeli universities” which had “significant immunity to our society’s ordinary defences against racism”.

He writes on his website: “This was an antisemitism that could be embraced by ‘good’ people who thought of themselves as opponents of antisemitism. It spread from the academics and left-wing activists into the heart of the Labour Party and so into British public life.”

Hirsh also claims that the defeat of Corbynism in the Labour Party has led to many who backed the former leader now re-emerging on campus.

He writes: “The underlying ways of thinking that allowed Corbyn to be elected leader in the first place are still largely respectable in left, liberal and intellectual circles.

“Indeed the antisemitic movement, which had originally come from the campuses, has largely gone back to them for safety and to regroup. Many hundreds of people ‘learned’ from the experience of the Corbyn movement that between ‘us’ and ‘progress’ stands a formidable ‘Zionist’ obstacle.”

Jewish News has also learned that a current dispute between university staff and management at Goldsmiths has created further issues for Hirsh, as some union members question his commitment to ongoing strike action because of his support for Israel and Zionism.

In one instance, it is claimed by some union officials that an academic has been targeted with redundancy because of their history for standing up for Palestinian causes.

Colleagues of Hirsh say this is typical of the way the Israel/Palestine issue emerges as a theme, seemingly in the midst of an industrial dispute with no link to the Middle East.

Goldsmiths UCU, the trade union for academics and staff at the institution, has supported Bafo in the dispute with Hirsh, last week tweeting: “We are 100 per cent behind you Sara.”

Other academic allies of Hirsh point to the fact that he has not been promoted further at Goldsmiths, despite his widely praised work over 20 years on a range of issues, as a sign that his “face doesn’t quite fit” within the institution.

The government last week said it would cut all ties with the NUS. Universities minister Michelle Donelan said it had “antisemitic rot at its heart”.

Jewish News has approached Bafo for comment.

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