A London university has asked its own student union to start an antisemitism probe after a Jewish academic was branded a “far right white supremacist” and a “racist Zionist” by student leaders.
David Hirsh, a senior sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, was targeted with the slurs after he criticised the National Union of Students (NUS) “decolonise education” campaign claiming it had an “antisemitic edge.”
On March 26th, Sara Bafo, the president of Goldsmiths student union, tweeted:”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.”
A Goldsmiths spokesperson confirmed to Jewish News on Thursday that it had asked Goldsmiths Student Union to investigate whether messages posted on Twitter “antisemitic in nature.”
Larissa Kennedy, the outgoing NUS president, has labelled the decision to launch an investigation into the tweets as “disgusting” claiming Bafo was doing “anti-racist work.”
Goldsmiths UCU, the official trade union for academics and staff at the institution, has also come out in support of Bafo over the dispute, last week tweeting : “We are 100 per cent behind you Sara.”
The row erupted after Hirsh, who has for decades been an outspoken campaigner against anti-Jewish racism on both the far-left and the far-right, tweeted: “There is an antisemitic edge to official, institutional, university campaigns to ‘decolonise’ education.”
In her own post, Bafo was tweeting 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 Hirsh was responsible “racism and white supremacy cloaked in a guise where it presents itself as a victim.”
Asked to comment on the row a spokesperson for Goldsmiths confirmed to Jewish News on Thursday: “On 10 May 2022 we asked Goldsmiths Students’ Union to investigate messages on twitter after concerns were raised that these could be antisemitic in nature.
“Goldsmiths Students’ Union is an independent charity which has its own policies and processes for investigating and we expect them to follow these.
“Goldsmiths remains committed to supporting all members of our inclusive community and demonstrating there is no place for prejudice on our campus.”
Hirsh told Jewish News he did not wish to comment with an investigation into the slurs directed at him on-going.
But friends and supporters of the academic, and author of the acclaimed Contemporary Left Antisemitism book, suggested he was the victim a culture and institutional practice targeting outspoken Jewish academics such as himself that stretched by over two decades.
In March Jewish News reported on how the official NUS “decolonise education” campaign was dominated with criticism of Israel and promoted the BDS movement as an example of positive decolonising campaigning.
We told how the NUS resource hub for the campaign is awash with anti-Zionist literature, videos and recommendation for further reading including an interview with anti-Israel activist Huda Ammori on the Apartheid Off Campus podcast.
An introductory video for the Decolonising Education campaign understandably highlights the Black liberation struggle – but the speaker then goes on to use the examples of South Africa, Australia and then Palestine as framing.
Another resource in the Decolonisers’ Library is the infamous New York Times article from 2011 which attempted to dismiss the achievements of the Israeli LGBT+ rights movement as “Pinkwashing”.
The NUS also recruited dozens of trained activists last summer to take the campaign to campuses across the country this year.
Last week after being alerted about the decision to launch an investigation into tweets, Bafo again took to social media.
In a May 11 post she revealed Goldsmiths management had asked the student union trustee board to “investigate me for a tweet I made in response to a Zionist Goldsmiths academic’s explicit racist history and his delegitimisation of ‘Decolonisation’ campaigns.”
She was backed by outgoing NUS president Kennedy who tweeted:”Attacks from unis and government towards Black and brown student officers and organisers doing anti-racist work must be understood in the broader context of attacks on activism through the PCSC and anti-boycott bills.”
Disgusting move from @GoldsmithsUoL
Attacks from unis and govt towards Black & brown student officers and organisers doing anti-racist work must be understood in the broader context of attacks on activism through the PCSC and anti-boycott bills.
This is concerted suppression. https://t.co/TzAGZlqdHf
— Larissa Kennedy (@Larissa_Ken) May 12, 2022
Kennedy had appeared before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday to face questions about claims of continued antisemitism in the NUS.
Meanwhile in a further May 11 tweet Goldsmith UCU tweeted in support of Safo stated she was “a powerful and effective voice in fighting against all forms of violence and injustice at Goldsmiths.”
Hirsh, who has been a senior member of the Goldsmiths sociology department for over a decade, was awarded the British Sociological Association Philip Abrams Prize for the best first book in sociology in 2004 for Law Against Genocide.
We stand in full solidarity with @SaraBafo1 who has been a powerful and effective voice in fighting against all forms of violence and injustice at @GoldsmithsUoL, and in opposition to this appalling treatment of student leaders by SMT. We are 100% behind you Sara. ✊ https://t.co/4NwcxYmTDP
— Goldsmiths UCU (@GoldsmithsUCU) May 11, 2022
The book focused on two trials from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the trial of Andrei Sawoniuk for crimes committed during the Holocaust, and the David Irving libel case.
More recently, after Donald Trump was elected US President, Hirsh spoke out about the danger of the advancement of far-right ideology.
In Contemporary Left Antisemitism Hirsh wrote of the Livingstone Formulation in which Jews were accused of raising the issue of antisemitism in bad faith only in order to silence criticism of Israel or to smear the left.
Jewish News has also contacted Bafo, Kennedy, and Goldsmiths SU for further comment on their social media posts.
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