Oxford blocks Neturei talk

A lecture by the leader of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect was relocated after Oxford University’s largest graduate college refused to let him speak on campus.

Ahron Cohen was the guest speaker at the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford’s (MECO) monthly forum on Thursday last week.

The event had been due to take place at Wolfson College but was relocated to a private venue after the college cancelled the booking.

A Wolfson spokeswoman initially said the decision was taken because the booking was not “transparent”. It is understood a college member’s name was used without the person’s agreement or their knowledge of Mr Cohen’s attendance.

MECO has no affiliation with the university, but its chairman, Taj Hargey, is a member of the college. He said the college’s reasoning was “a figleaf, a brilliant smokescreen” and that it had “caved in to Zionist pressure”.

Manchester-based Mr Cohen, who styles himself “Rabbi”, gave a lecture entitled “Zionism is not Judaism, anti-Israelism is not antisemitism”.

He has previously questioned the number of deaths in the Holocaust and in 2006 spoke at a Shoah-denial conference in Tehran, organised by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Dr Hargey said: “I asked Rabbi Cohen if he denied the Holocaust and he said no. I think it’s preposterous we should even get into the numbers game. One Jew being killed for being Jewish is too many. I’m not going to play the numbers game because it’s disrespectful to the dead.

“We believe the Palestinian cause has not been heard. This was not about currying favour with fundamentalists or fanatics. Why should we bother with those people? We are not an antisemitic organisation. I oppose the notion to shove the Jews into the ocean.”

In a letter sent to the Muslim Public Affairs Committee website, MECO repeated the claim that the university had “buckled to pressure and threats” from students.

“These supposed seekers of knowledge and the truth only want the Zionist narrative and Israeli propaganda to prevail. They will go to any lengths to achieve this,” the letter stated.

Later, a Wolfson College spokeswoman said: “Wolfson supports free speech, and is happy to host speakers of all opinions.

“However, where a speaker is likely to be controversial or provocative, or has the potential to cause offence to college members, it is the governing body’s policy to discuss whether and how to hold the event, including whether opposing voices should be included.”

    Last updated: 2:45pm, August 13 2009