University 'failed to probe anti-Israel talk

Liverpool’s Victoria Building

Liverpool’s Victoria Building

A group which monitors extremists has complained about the way Liverpool University investigated a medical course which it suspended for promoting anti-Israel propaganda.

Student Rights, which campaigns against extremism on campuses, said it had serious concerns after being refused Freedom of Information requests by the university.

The criticism comes only days after the Home Secretary criticised universities for their "complacency" in tackling radicalisation.

Student Rights had asked to see the report on the investigation into the Faculty of Medicine's 'Healthy Inclusion' module on the treatment of refugees. The course was suspended last month after two Jewish medical students complained to a faculty head.

This week, the university said the Healthy Inclusion module would be re-instated - and upgraded to the mandatory mainstream medical curriculum from September. A statement said: "We are also planning to hold a symposium focusing on issues around Palestinian health in the autumn."

Dr Ian Ellis, a senior lecturer and head of year at the university, was advised by Jewish students that a Healthy Inclusion lecture in January focused on the suffering of Palestinians. At the lecture, a 48-page pamphlet published by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, calling for direct action to boycott Israeli goods and lobby MPs, was offered to students. The students said it also condoned terrorist acts and suicide bombings as a "tragic" form of defence against Israel.

The students, who asked to remain anonymous, took the pamphlet to Jewish student chaplain Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein. They identified the guest lecturer as Gwen Backwell, former head of Liverpool Friends of Palestine. Liverpool University was unable to confirm that Ms Backwell had medical expertise or lecturing experience.

Now it has emerged that the university did not invite Dr Ellis to contribute to the investigation, despite his offer to speak on behalf of the students. The investigation did not seek a formal statement from Rabbi Rubinstein.

Liverpool University also said it was "unable to confirm the information and statements contained within the pamphlets" and did not have a copy of the material, despite the pamphlet being available on the PSC's website.

Student Rights national director Raheem Kassam said the pamphlet was "sympathetic to suicide bombing, and excuses it, purporting to understand why people blow themselves up. It's disgusting."

Neither Healthy Inclusion's course convenor, Dr Joseph O'Neill, the course administrator, nor Gwen Backwell responded to calls for comments.

The university said it was satisfied with the contents of the course. Its investigation had "interviewed the lecturer, a number of students on the module and examined all material used in the lecture. We are satisfied that our investigation was thorough."

It added: "We do not endorse propaganda and this material is not distributed as part of the Healthy Inclusion module. However, like all universities we are committed to academic freedom and, outside of the formal teaching environment, we cannot prevent individuals or groups distributing material that could be seen as biased to a particular viewpoint."

    Last updated: 11:16am, June 17 2011