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September 22, 2022 11:27 am
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I Was Failed for Speaking the Truth About Israel

avatar by Danielle Greyman

Opinion

Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds in England. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Over a year ago, I was submitting my final assignment of my three-year Sociology degree at the University of Leeds.

I had just finished my dissertation and received my offers for postgraduate study, and was feeling excited for the next step in my life. I was the first in my family to go to university, had never failed an assignment, and had a strong academic record. I received scholarships. I was a good student with full faith in academia and the integrity of academics.

The assignment I was writing was a 5,000-word case study on state crime and immorality. We were encouraged to take on a controversial topic, and I received approval on my topic from two members of the staff.

I decided to write about Hamas’ crimes against Palestinian civilians, with the aid of the UN. There was so much literature on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a real lack of academic literature on the suffering of Palestinians from Hamas.

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My module tutor discouraged me from addressing Israel in the essay, which made sense because the essay wasn’t about Israel. So I wrote about Hamas stealing humanitarian aid and redirecting it for military/personal use; Hamas’ use of human shields; and the disgraceful educational experience provided to Palestinian youth — which celebrates terrorism and encourages the murder of Jewish civilians.

I compared demographics and statistics between Gaza and the West Bank to prove the culpability of Hamas. Two groups with the same ethno-national-political identity, in the same region, with the same neighbors, have very different living standards and life experiences. Palestinians living in Gaza have a higher infant mortality rate, unemployment rate, and other adverse factors compared to Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Despite my assignment not being about Israel, the feedback I received from my grader was almost entirely attacking me for not blaming Israel.

I was given a failing grade of 35. I know students who have written their essays drunk, at 2 AM the night before it was due, and still received a 50. The grader and university were saying my essay had absolutely no academic merit whatsoever.

I was shocked, and decided to research the grader, Claudia Radiven. I had never spoken to her, never had a class with her, and never interacted with her. Yet, I found I was blocked by her on Twitter. This is enough for me to believe the anonymity of marking was breached. I quickly created a new Twitter to research her. I found tweets showing her support for Hamas, condemning Israel for actions that never happened, and just outright antisemitism.

I contacted UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) and they helped me to appeal the marking, supported by academics, like Dr. David Hirsh, who reviewed my assignment. The academics agreed it shouldn’t have failed.

Dr. Hirsh wrote a long report detailing how inappropriate the feedback was. This report, alongside numerous screenshots from Claudia Radiven’s Twitter, was submitted to the appeals committee. I thought this would be a quick fix, given the clear evidence of bias. In fact, It took over a year for my appeal to go through, and the hearing committee spoke to me for less than 10 minutes. The committee concluded the marking was irregular and didn’t explain how the grader had arrived at the score they had given me, but they claimed to see no evidence of bias. It was agreed that the university would send my essay to be re-marked by an academic at another institution, where the assignment was given a passing grade.

To date, the University of Leeds has still not apologized or even acknowledged the discrimination that took place.

Claudia Radiven is now the head of the module that this assignment was for, despite her irregular marking. Court proceedings have been filed so that I can be compensated for my damages. I did not get to continue into postgraduate study. I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony. An achievement that should have been greatly celebrated in my family has been reduced to trauma.

I have been trying to find a new career path, but have struggled to locate a new passion. I have studied Sociology since I was 14, and had always intended to become a Sociologist — but now that path isn’t open to me. And I have been told by numerous Jewish Sociologists that the field is so tainted by antisemitism that I should avoid it.

I have made aliyah to avoid future antisemitism, and am desperately trying to learn Hebrew. I feel like I am still mourning the career I wanted and worked for. I have absolutely no trust in academic institutions anymore, and have become completely disillusioned with the idea of academic integrity. I am not the same person I was a year ago.

Despite the despair I described above, I do have a lot to be grateful for. I want to thank everyone from my community who has offered their support. I am so thankful to UKLFI for providing legal support and assisting the legal action against the University of Leeds. I also want to thank Dr. Hirsh, from the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (LCSCA), for finding the time in his busy schedule to offer his insight and expertise into my case.

I am just a canary in the coal mine. If rampant antisemitism at universities isn’t addressed, my case could sadly become the norm.

The author is a Jewish University of Leeds graduate from London, UK.

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