Glasgow University says we’ll help Jewish students ‘avoid’ rector who praised terrorists

Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah was elected rector of the university this week


Doctor Ghassan Abu-Sittah speaking at a press conference in London (left) and weeping over the grave of PFLP founder Maher Al-Yamani (Photo: Sky News/PFLP)

The principal of Glasgow University has made alternative arrangements for Jewish students so they do not need to be represented by a newly elected rector who has a history of praising terrorists.

Sir Anton Muscatelli has appeared to distance the university from its newly elected rector, Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, a British-Palestinian doctor whose election has prompted fears for the safety of Jewish students.

In a letter to legal advocacy group UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI), Sir Anton, said the institution had “put in place channels of communication for the representation of Jewish students, so that they can avoid having to be represented by Dr Abu Sittah”.

However in a post on its website UKLFI pointed out that the job of the rector is to represent all students.

Sir Anton wrote: “We will of course be seeking to reassure both Israeli and Jewish students (indeed all students) that they are safe; that there are multiple routes (both formal and informal) to raise any concerns they have; that students seeking representation can speak to the Students’ Representative Council rather than the rector if they wish to.”

Abu-Sittah, who received 80 per cent of first preference votes, was elected by students to serve a three-year term in the highest governing body of the university.

The high-profile doctor has become known as a hero surgeon who worked in Gaza and has been treated as an expert on the situation in the Strip by the world’s biggest media outlets, including BBC, Sky and CNN.

However, a JC investigation into Abu-Sittah revealed that over the years, he has praised a terrorist murderer in a newspaper article, sat beside a notorious terrorist hijacker at a memorial and delivered a tearful eulogy to the founder of a terror group that was later involved in the October 7 atrocities.

The JC has also revealed he posted a tweet in 2019 heaping praise on members of a proscribed terror group who flew into Israel on gliders and murdered six soldiers in a chilling foreshadow of the October 7 attack.

Sir Anton also wrote: “The rector is a wholly independent role (separate from university senior management) with no executive authority in the university, and whilst the rector is free to express their thoughts and represent those of students – indeed this has been the case throughout history – we are clear these views are independent and do not represent those of the university.

“Harassment and abuse of any kind, including antisemitism, will not be tolerated at the university and any instances will be investigated and dealt with accordingly.”

Ahead of his election, the doctor had said that he would end the university’s use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

"While I am absolutely committed to tackling all forms of antisemitism, it is my belief that, by linking criticism of Israel to antisemitism, this definition threatens academic criticism of Israel and Palestinian solidarity events,” he wrote in a manifesto.

"My fear, shared by the University and Colleges Union, is that such a definition risks undermining freedom of speech and intellectual thought on campus. Accordingly, as rector, I would call for the replacement of the IHRA definition with the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.”

UKLFI said it had alerted the principal to Dr Abu Sittah’s social media posts commemorating terrorists, but Dr Abu Sittah had denied that he was the author of “at least two of these posts”.

UKLFI said it had since raised concerns with the university about three further posts.

Caroline Turner, director of UKLFI, commented: “It is an extremely worrying situation for such a person as Abu Sittah to be allowed to take up an important role, purporting to represent students, and yet be a cause of such division within the university.

“Sadly, with Dr Abu Sittah in position as rector, and attempting to persuade the university to carry out the various anti-Israel election pledges that were in his manifesto, Jewish and Israeli students at Glasgow University will inevitably find themselves in an extremely hostile environment.”

In November, the plastic surgeon delivered a press conference on the Israel-Hamas conflict that was broadcast by Sky News. He also provided testimony to Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit.

However, he has a history of disturbing remarks and associations. Writing for Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar in 2018, Abu-Sittah hailed Ahmad Jarrar, who masterminded the murder of father-of-six Rabbi Raziel Shevach in a drive-by shooting near Nablus, as one of Palestine’s “dearest and best sons” and a “hero”.

The doctor wrote: “The martyrdom of the resistance member Ahmed Nasr Jarrar, the hero of the Nablus operation, at the hands of the Zionist occupation army… like the hundreds of resistance fighters who were martyred at the hands of this satanic alliance, represents a pivotal moment.”

In 2019, Abu-Sittah was pictured sitting next to the notorious hijacker Leila Khaled at a memorial for a leader of terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Maher Al-Yemani.

In 2020, a year after Al-Yemani’s death, Dr Abu Sitta delivered an emotional eulogy at his graveside in Beirut which was captured on camera and exposed by the JC last December.

Ghassan Abu-Sittah said: “I am grateful to the more than 4,000 students who put their faith in me. I intend to be a rector for all students at Glasgow. While I may in the past have used emotive language in the context of a brutal war in my home country, I vehemently oppose terrorism, and civilian casualties on all sides. As a surgeon my vocation is preserving life and I repeat my calls for a sustainable ceasefire and lasting peace.”
His lawyers added, in relation to the 2019 Night of the Gliders tweet: “Our client does not recognise this post or recall having posted it”.

Dr Abu Sittah previously told the JC: “While I may in the past have used emotive language at the funeral of a friend or following an extra-judicial killing, I vehemently oppose terrorism, and civilian casualties on all sides. As a surgeon, my vocation is preserving life and I repeat my calls for a sustainable ceasefire and lasting peace.”

His lawyers said that the doctor did not know that Jarrar had been involved in the killing of a rabbi and that he would never condone murder.

Dr Abu Sittah had written the article because the Jarrar was the victim of an extra-judicial Israeli killing and that he should have faced due process instead, they claimed.

He was similarly not aware that Al-Yamani was accused of involvement in terrorism, they added.

His legal team added that Dr Abu Sittah “abhors” anti-Jewish racism and only opposes the IHRA definition because of its “chilling effect on legitimate criticism of Israel’s actions”.

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