Goldsmiths to support Jewish academic David Hirsh after ‘unwarranted’ attack from SU President

The university has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, but without the 11 examples


Goldsmiths University of London has “finally” confirmed that it is supporting Jewish academic Dr David Hirsh after he was labelled a “far right white supremacist” by the Students' Union President three months ago.

Sara Bafo, whose term as president of Goldsmiths Students’ Union (SU) ended in mid-May, wrote on Twitter in March that Hirsh is a “far right white supremacist” with an “explicit racist history” after he expressed concern about antisemitism within the “decolonisation” campaigns.

Bafo’s tweets are now understood to be part of an “independent review into antisemitism at the College... including those linked to Goldsmiths Students’ Union”.

In a statement on Friday, Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, slammed Bafo's tweets as “unwarranted” and “completely unacceptable”, adding that these behaviours “will always be challenged”.

On March 26, Sara Bafo, president of Goldsmiths SU, tweeted that David Hirsh, a sociologist and an expert on antisemitism, is a “far right white supremacist” after he expressed concern about “university campaigns to ‘decolonise’ education”.

She was supporting a claim made by the outspoken black cultural activist Chardine Taylor Stone who had tweeted that Hirsh was guilty of “a direct attack against Black and Brown academic/students”, saying his concern about antisemitism was “racism and white supremacy”.

The National Union of Students, defines decolonisation within education as "providing students, staff and their local communities with the tools and language to critically identify the ways our schools, colleges and universities are built using the same colonial hierarchies. It also means empowering them to confront, challenge and reject the status quo."

Neither Goldsmiths University nor Goldsmiths SU investigated the tweet or made any public statement in defence of Hirsh at the time.

On May 11, in her final week as SU president, Bafo revealed that Goldsmiths University “has tried to get the SU trustee board to investigate” her tweets, and wrote that her tweets were “in response to a Zionist Goldsmiths academic’s explicit racist history”.

Bafo was supported by the Goldsmiths branch of the University and College Union (UCU), the staff trade union of which Hirsh is a long-time member, and also the current president of the NUS, an organisation currently subject to an external investigation into allegations of antisemitism.

(ABOVE: The Goldsmiths branch of the University and College Union (UCU), the staff trade union of which Hirsh is a long-time member, expressed support for Bafo)

In a statement in early May, Ed Nedjari, chief executive of Goldsmiths SU said that no investigation could be launched because Bafo’s term as SU president has ended, and “most importantly, because her comments are protected as free speech”.

The position of Goldsmiths University was that, as Bafo was president of the SU, the university itself could not investigate the tweets.

But in a meeting on Thursday evening, the university decided to commission “an independent review into antisemitism at the College to ensure that Goldsmiths’ processes and protocols are able to address reports of such behaviours appropriately.”

The statement added: “This follows reports of antisemitism received by the College this academic year, including those linked to Goldsmiths Students’ Union. The College is consulting the Equality and Human Rights Commission about good practice on such a project, with a view to appointing a barrister to undertake this work beginning later this summer.”

Professor Frances Corner, Warden of Goldsmiths, offered public support for Hirsh for the first time, saying in a statement: “We are supporting Dr Hirsh after unwarranted messages about him were posted on social media which I believe are utterly without foundation. These kinds of behaviours are completely unacceptable and will always be challenged.

“As Warden I want to make it clear that this kind of conduct is not in line with the College’s values and that it brings harm to individuals as well as our good reputation as a place of learning.”

David Hirsh said in a statement: “We have seen recently in Britain that antisemitic ways of thinking can be tolerated and indulged among quite broad layers of society. And that tolerance is but a subset of a widening tolerance for anti-democratic thinking and politics of other kinds. Jews are not the only ‘enemy of the people’ being singled out for scorn.”

He added: “This week is the first time that anybody in authority at Goldsmiths, who speaks for the university, has ever publicly supported me against those who exclude me from the community of scholarship. It is the first time that the institution itself has affirmed that the claim that my work is racist is false.

“This is great. I sigh in relief. Things are turning around. There is going to be an inquiry. Finally! And then I remember that affirming that I’m not a Nazi is quite a low bar. The authorities feeling the need to put out a public statement that I’m not a Nazi is pretty humiliating in itself, really.”

(ABOVE: The outgoing president of the NUS expresses support for Bafo)

The university also confirmed that it has adopted both the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, without the 11 examples, as well as the controversial Jerusalem Declaration definition (JDA), alongside the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia.

Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS), which has been campaigning for Goldsmiths to investigate the tweets, said that it is "encouraging" that a review has been opened into antisemitism at the university, but strongly criticised the decision not to adopt the IHRA definition in full

The group said in a statement: "It is a damning indictment of where the university still stands when they challenge the [Jewish] community's chosen definition of antisemitism while embracing without question the full definition of Islamophobia".

Sara Bafo and Goldsmiths SU have been approached for comment.

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