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February 22, 2019 4:14 pm

University of Essex Ratifies Jewish Society After Controversy, Suspends Lecturer Over ‘Antisemitic’ Posts on Holocaust, Israel

avatar by Shiri Moshe

Aerial view of the University of Essex. Photo: Terry Joyce.

The University of Essex on Friday announced the immediate establishment of a Jewish society that was previously voted against by some 200 students, as the English school launched a probe into antisemitism and suspended a lecturer accused of sharing hostile posts on the Holocaust, Jews, and Israel.

Leaders from the university’s Students’ Union ratified the society following a discussion with the Trustee Board and a public outcry over the initial poll, which was scrapped on Thursday over what the Union called “an irregularity.”

In an email sent earlier on Friday to all students and staff, Vice Chancellor Anthony Forster denounced antisemitism and said the week’s events “raised important questions for us.”

Affirming the school’s recognition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, Forster pledged to support the establishment of a student Jewish society, calling it “an important means of supporting Jewish students to enhance their experience at Essex.”

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Several members of the campus community had expressed opposition to the Jewish group’s formation, allegedly including computer science lecturer Maaruf Ali, who was reported to have commented on Facebook, “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our university.” Ali was also accused of sharing controversial posts featuring Holocaust denial, calling a French police officer who was killed by Islamists in 2015 a “crypto-Jew,” and comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

Forster indicated that Ali — whose comments were condemned as “antisemitic” by Jewish community advocates — was suspended while the university investigates these “serious allegations.”

The school will also immediately launch a review into the experiences of Jewish students and staff at Essex, and host a solidarity rally with the campus Jewish community on Thursday afternoon.

The vice chancellor — who was applauded on Friday for his prompt response and “strong commitments” by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main representative group for British Jewry — did not address concerns raised on Thursday by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which accused a campus branch of the advocacy group Amnesty International of campaigning against the Jewish society’s establishment.

According to a statement previously shared by an unidentified member of Amnesty Essex, purportedly on behalf of the group, their objections stemmed from the Jewish society’s stated desire to commemorate Israel’s national Independence Day, which Amnesty Essex claimed “has nothing to do with Judaism” and represented “a day where 700,000 Palestinians were illegally expelled from their homes.”

UJS dismissed the message as an arrogant attempt to lecture Jewish students on what Israel and Zionism can mean to them, declaring, “Jewish students should not and will not change our identity to appease others’ prejudices.”

Kerry Moscogiuri, director of supporter campaigns and communications at Amnesty International UK, told The Algemeiner in a statement on Friday that the comments shared by the Amnesty Essex member “do not reflect the view of the Essex University Amnesty Society and Amnesty International UK.”

“Whilst they were well intentioned, their view to conflate Israel Independence Day with the human rights abuses committed by the Israeli authorities is wrong.”

She acknowledged that “for many members of the Jewish community, the existence of a Jewish state is part of their Jewish identity and Israel Independence Day has a long tradition of being celebrated within the community.”

“Marking this date is not a statement of support for any specific government and its actions, or political opinion within Israel,” Moscogiuri said. “Essex University has not had a Jewish Society for a number of years and there is definitely a need for one to be set up — a view that is championed by the Amnesty group there.”

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