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Disabled student teaches university a lesson
3 November 2016
The universities regulator, in a case we've been closely involved in, has strongly criticised the country's fourth biggest university for failing to deal properly with a Jewish student's complaint of harassment, and has told the university to pay him compensation of £3,000.
When Brian (not his real name), a disabled Jewish student at Sheffield Hallam University, complained about the university's tolerance of anti-Israel activity that crossed the line into antisemitism and harassment, he had high hopes but little expectation of succeeding.
Brian listed appalling tweets and Facebook posts by the university's Palestine Society that went way beyond the right of free speech and created a hostile environment for the young student. Some posts compared Bethlehem to the Warsaw Ghetto and "Zionists" to Nazi criminals, and accused Israel of ethnic cleansing (if not genocide) and stealing Palestinian organs.
After deliberating for nearly nine months, the university comprehensively rejected all Brian's complaints, so he took his case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. The OIA criticised the university for failing to properly turn its mind to the question whether Brian had experienced harassment as a result of the Palestine Society's social media activity, failing to take relevant guidance into account, and other shortcomings. The OIA said these failings were likely to have caused Brian distress and inconvenience, as indeed they did.
Significantly, the OIA cited a modern definition of antisemitism that suggests when virulent anti-Zionism becomes antisemitic. The regulator described the definition as being "of particular relevance", and "more nuanced" than the university's approach, and said the university should have engaged with Brian's request that it formally adopt the definition.
The OIA strongly criticised the university's students' union, to which Brian had complained earlier, for failing to treat his complaint as a formal one and appointing a decision-maker who was ill-equipped to consider it.
The university accepts it owes Brian and apology, and will offer him compensation of £3,000.
The OIA has told the university to work with the students' union to ensure complaints are dealt with fairly, and to raise awareness across campus of the legal framework governing freedom of speech and the university's responsibility to ensure that staff, students and others are protected from harassment.
The student was helped throughout by ELAPSA's David Lewis and by Lesley Klaff. Lesley is the Jewish chaplain at Sheffield Hallam, a senior lecturer in law, and an expert on modern antisemitism.
This decision could really help Jewish and pro-Israel students to complain effectively to their universities about some of the worst abuses by anti-Zionists. No British university can now reproduce the cavalier and indifferent way in which Sheffield Hallam and its students' union treated Brian's complaints without exposing itself to severe criticism and a compensation award. Equally significant is the respect given by the regulator to a definition of antisemitism which sets limits to anti-Zionist abuses while preserving the freedom to criticise Israel like any other state, and students and societies which act antisemitically within the definition may expose themselves to disciplinary action and other sanctions.
Brian showed great courage in pursuing his complaint within
a hostile student environment and in the face of union and university
ELAPSA tweets for Al Jazeera show
10 May 2016
Al Jazeera asked us to participate in an online Twitter discussion on whether anti-Zionism is the new antisemitism. We tweeted from @elapsauk; one of our tweets was read out on the channel's Tuesday evening show, this week titled Anti-Semitism rocks UK Labour Party; another ELAPSA tweet was displayed in a running banner.
Virtually all the anti-Zionist tweeters adopted David Hirsch's Livingstone Formulation during the discussion. The same evening The Stream retweeted a message from @adlew, David Lewis's personal Twitter account, which said: "It's not objective criticism of Israel which is antisemitic, it's hate filled defamation which is antisemitic."
Lewis article published in Kehila
20 April 2016
Kehila, the Mosaic community magazine, published its Pesach 2016/5776 issue featuring (on page 14) an article by our director, David Lewis, on his work in challenging antisemitic activity by some local councils and councillors.