First- class dishonours

A great many people have had their say on the decision of the officers of Leeds University JSoc to withdraw from Brooke Goldstein the invitation previously extended to her to address the society.

In all the hullabaloo that has surrounded this incident, some basic facts seem to have been lost sight of. The first is that, in its treatment of Ms Goldstein, Leeds JSoc acted with incredible rudeness.

The least the JSoc can do is remove the current office-holders

Had the society's officers considered her suitability as a speaker and come to a decision that she should not be invited, one might have acquiesced in it. One might have questioned the reasoning that lay behind even the politest of refusals but one could, I think, have accepted it on the basis that it is for the society's elected officers to decide whom they invite.

But this isn't what happened. What happened was that they decided to invite Ms Goldstein. And then, two days before she was due to speak, and after the event had been advertised, the invitation was withdrawn.

The withdrawal of the invitation was not merely discourteous and impolite. It was deliberately discourteous and knowingly impolite. More than that, it amounted to a gross interference with Ms Goldstein's freedom of expression. I say this because the grounds upon which the invitation was withdrawn related - or so we are told - to matters that must have been well known to or, easily ascertainable by, the Leeds JSoc officers at the time at which the invitation was originally despatched.

These grounds are summarised in a Leeds JSoc press release as having to do with Ms Goldstein's "links with anti-Muslim propagandists". I don't propose here to investigate these links, for the simple reason that they are completely irrelevant. Upon Islam, as upon any other subject, Ms Goldstein is entitled to her views and to express such views publicly. They may or may not be "controversial" - or even (to quote Leeds JSoc) "too controversial". So what? I am sure that Ms Goldstein, an accomplished lawyer, did not need to be reminded that whatever she was minded to say - had she been permitted to say it - had to be within the law of the land.

Mercifully, in this country (as in the USA), it is still within the law of the land to express in public views that may be considered contentious and even divisive. And if one cannot express controversial, contentious and/or divisive views within the portals of a university, where precisely may one express them?

It is here that we reach the nub of the matter, which is that, by their actions, those in charge of the affairs of Leeds JSoc have demonstrated that they have not the slightest notion of what a university is for and what principles underpin its functioning.

So let me tell them. A university exists for the pursuit of truth - no matter how unpleasant, offensive or unpalatable. And, in order that it may pursue the truth, a university exists to protect and facilitate the questioning of received wisdom and the expression of opinions with which others may profoundly disagree. These principles are core to the idea and purpose of a university. They are not negotiable.

I am told that some members of Leeds JSoc are congratulating themselves on the fact that no less than 14 members, vice-presidents and trustees of the Jewish Leadership Council appended their signatures to a pitiable letter (published in the JC two weeks ago) expressing confidence in the society and thanking its officers "for simply trying to do the best they can".

Apart from the fact that, by signing this letter, these 14 grandees have demonstrated their utter unwillingness - or, inability - to comprehend the above underlying issues of principle, I must point out that no less than (by my reckoning) 18 trustees, members and vice-presidents of the so-called Jewish Leadership Council did not sign the letter.

Out of this sorry affair, that is the only grain of comfort I can offer. As for Leeds JSoc, the very least its members can do - apart, that is, from offering Ms Goldstein an unequivocal public apology - is to dispense with the services of the current office-holders and replace them with persons who have at least a modicum of understanding of the purpose of a university education.

    Last updated: 11:11am, April 6 2012