UKLFI Charitable Trust

Attempts to intimidate Jewish students at Warwick University rebuffed

Attempts to deter Jewish students from complaining about antisemitism at Warwick University have been rebuffed, with the assistance of UKLFI Charitable Trust. Three disciplinary charges against a Jewish student who complained about antisemitism have been dropped with no action being taken.

Warwick University Rootes Building by Kyrosho, Wiki Commons

In November 2019, the President of the University of Warwick’s Jewish Israeli Society, Angus Taylor, submitted a complaint on behalf of a society member who felt that an academic had made an antisemitic comment during a lecture, and who wanted to remain anonymous. The society member had recorded part of the lecture as she became increasingly concerned about the lecturer’s remarks.

The particular comment in issue was: “… this idea that the Labour Party is antisemitic is very much an Israeli lobby kind of idea, the idea that you want to discredit the Labour Party because there is support for Palestine among some members of the Labour Party”.

When the lecturer found out about the complaint, she emailed her whole class, denying that she had said anything antisemitic. Sociology students at the University then released a statement accusing Jewish students of taking the lecturer’s statement out of context in an attempt to undermine a “lecturer of colour”.

In an attempt to protect Jewish students from further hostility on campus, the Jewish Israeli Society published part of the recording of the lecture showing that the statement had not been taken out of context.

The University proceeded to investigate the complaint against the lecturer and ruled that the comment “was interpreted as an anti-Semitic conspiratorial trope” but nevertheless was legitimate “within the principles and values of tolerance and freedom of speech”.

However, this was not the end of the matter. Angus Taylor was then himself the subject of two disciplinary complaints by the lecturer that related directly to his role in the complaint against her.

The first complaint against him alleged that he had violated the University’s “Policy on the Recording of Lectures Students” by using and publishing part of the recording of the lecture.

The second complaint alleged that he had violated the University’s “Dignity at Warwick Policy” by bullying and harassment and a defamation of the academic reputation of …. through the use of a decontextualized lecture recording and the submission of a vexatious complaint”.

As President of the Jewish Israeli Society, Angus Taylor campaigned strongly for the University’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. This was opposed by an open letter signed by 75 academic staff of the University.

Angus responded to this with an open letter and a series of tweets addressing the arguments that had been made against adoption of the definition and also pointing out that some of the academics who had signed the letter opposing adoption of the definition had themselves been accused of antisemitism. He mentioned, amongst other matters, that one of them had marked down an Israeli student’s dissertation for being too Zionist.

The third complaint was that this criticism amounted to “bullying and harassment and a defamation of the academic reputation” of the academic concerned in violation of the “Dignity at Warwick Policy”.

The University took the complaints against Angus seriously and Jonathan Turner, Executive Director of UKLFI Charitable Trust, was asked by the Community Security Trust (CST) to assist him.

A strong defence was submitted to all three charges, demonstrating that the University’s policies had not in fact been violated and that, on the contrary, the complaints against Angus themselves breached the University’s Whistleblowing Policy. It was also pointed out that the University could be liable for victimisation in breach of section 91 of the Equality Act 2010.

All disciplinary charges against Angus were eventually dropped and no action has been taken. The University’s Vice Chancellor, Prof Stuart Croft, has also announced that the University will adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Jonathan Turner, Executive Director of UKLFI Charitable Trust, said: “While we are very pleased that the disciplinary charges were dropped, it is scandalous that they were made in the first place and then treated seriously by the University. We congratulate Angus Taylor on his tenacity and composure throughout the process, as well as on his achievements as President of the Jewish Israeli Society at Warwick.”