University academic refuses apology for threatening emails

A university governor has refused to apologise for sending offensive emails to a leading professor in which he declared “I hope you perish”.

The row between Ben-Gurion University’s British-born donor Michael Gross and Professor David Newman, led 120 BGU academics to write to its chair of governors demanding that Mr Gross should apologise or be sacked.

Mr Gross sent two emails to Prof Newman after the political geography professor, also British-born, appeared on last month’s Channel 4 Dispatches strand, which examined Britain’s pro-Israel lobby.

Prof Newman, who has been at BGU for 21 years, did not directly criticise Israeli policy in the programme, but later admitted it had been a mistake to take part and said he had received “fiery invective” after its broadcast.

Mr Gross, a once prominent member of Britain’s Jewish community, who now spends most of his time in Israel and sits on BGU’s international board of governors, emailed Prof Newman after the programme’s transmission. He wrote: “I saw your disgusting contribution to the Dispatches programme. I will use whatever influence I have at BGU to have you thrown out…I hope you perish.”

He later sent another message: “The sooner you are removed from BGU and the face of the earth, the better.”

Dispatches claimed to expose an “Israel lobby” working to buy influence with British politicians and journalists. It focused on parliamentary groups such as Conservative Friends of Israel, Labour Friends of Israel and Bicom, which organises fact-finding trips for journalists.

The letter sent last week by the 120 academics to university chair of governors Roy Zuckerberg claimed Mr Gross’s “hate mail” presented a challenge to academic discourse and free speech. It called on the university either to force Mr Gross to apologise, or sack him.

Prof Newman, who has reported Mr Gross’s emails to the Community Security Trust, said he was waiting for Mr Zuckerberg to reply to the letter before commenting further on the row.

But this week Mr Gross was unrepentant, saying he was “incandescent” after Prof Newman’s “inexplicable and perverse” participation in the programme.

“On receipt of direct, private criticism, admittedly in the strongest terms possible, Prof Newman sought to distract attention from his heinous actions by creating a public smoke-screen under the spurious grounds of academic freedom,” he said.

Mr Gross said the “antagonism” generated by Prof Newman among British Jews would seriously impact upon efforts to raise funds for the university for the “foreseeable future”.

He said the BGU academics backing Prof Newman should consider the damage to the institution’s reputation.

A spokeswoman for BGU said it had “no official response” to the row.
CST confirmed it had been made aware of the emails but did not consider it to be an antisemitic incident so was not planning to investigate further.

    Last updated: 4:47pm, December 17 2009