A London university where a leading Jewish academic was falsely accused of being a “far-right white supremacist” has set up a wide-ranging, barrister-led inquiry into antisemitism at the institution.
The move comes after Jews complained they were also banned from a student meeting that discussed “defending Palestine”, which was reportedly strictly limited to students who were “African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean and other black communities”.
The institution has appointed senior barrister Mohinderpal Sethi KC, who has previously examined sexual abuse in athletics and racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, to lead the inquiry.
The barrister is being asked to determine if Goldsmiths breached its duties under the Equalities Act, failed to follow its own anti-racist policies, or failed to support Jewish students and staff who have experienced antisemitism or deal with their complaints adequate.
It is also asking current and former students and staff to come forward with their experiences of antisemitism, and will conduct interviews and investigate alleged incidents. It plans to report next year.
Last year, Goldsmiths University saw its then-student union president accuse academic Dr David Hirsh, a senior lecturer in sociology, of having an “explicit racist history” after he had expressed concern about antisemitism in “university campaigns to ‘decolonise’ education”.
The college faced criticism after it was slow to respond to the claims and its failure to immediately back Hirsh.
This week the head of the university, Professor Frances Corner, said the barrister’s appointment showed how seriously the institution was now taking the issue.
She said antisemitism was “serious and it is pernicious, and we are determined to address it”.
She added Jew-hate had previously gone unreported at the university.
Hirsh welcomed the move. He said: “I am really pleased that the leadership of Goldsmiths is taking this difficult and courageous step. I have been clear that there is a hostile environment at the college for scholars and students who refuse to embrace anti-Zionism.”
Corner said that she was aware that the Community Security Trust has reported a recent surge in campus antisemitism, and hoped that the Goldsmiths inquiry would stand as an example for other universities, by showing “how to create a safe space for all of your staff and students, and to enable a better way of asking question about even the most difficult conflicts.”
“I want to focus on how we can make Goldsmiths a more welcoming place”, she said – adding that she realised that Jewish students may have been deterred from applying because of allegations of antisemitism in the past. If so, she hoped this would change.