Concerns for the welfare of Jewish students at campuses across the UK and in Ireland were mounting this week following new claims of antisemitism and anti-Israeli activity.
Bristol University confirmed it was investigating allegations that one of its lecturers had written an article in which she claimed the Holocaust was a “holy event” used by Israel to “whitewash its crimes”.
Dr Rebecca Gould, who lectures in comparative literature at the elite Russell Group university, had written an article entitled Beyond Anti-Semitism for the 2011 edition of Counter Punch, an American radical publication.
At the time, Dr Gould was an assistant professor at the University of Iowa.
This week Dr Gould refused to retract her views — which included the suggestion that: “Perhaps the time has come to stop privileging the Holocaust as the central event in Jewish history.”
Dr Gould did not respond to a request for comment from the JC. But she told the Daily Telegraph her article was a “rallying call to action” for “people of conscience horrified by the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazi regime to stand up against all atrocities and injustices around the world, including the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Sir Eric Pickles MP said her comments represented one of the “worst cases of Holocaust denial” he had seen in recent years and called for Dr Gould to consider her position.
A spokesman for Bristol University said the vice-chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady, had received a formal letter of complaint about Dr Gould’s article and was “actively looking into this matter”.
There was also concern at Exeter University over the unopposed election of post-graduate student Malaka Shwaikh, 25, as the leader of the student union.
Ms Shwaikh, who previously studied law and politics at Sheffield University and is one of 15 representatives on the National Union of Students NEC, has posted messages on social media comparing the behaviour of the Israeli government to the Nazi regime.
A Union of Jewish Students spokeswoman said: “It is a disappointing but unsurprising state of affairs that a person who has used deeply antisemitic rhetoric on social media can be elected in a student union election.
“There is no way that any individual who compares the Israeli government to the Nazi regime, a comparison recognised as antisemitic according to the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism, can adequately represent the Jewish students at their university or in their student union.”
Last week a swastika and a “rights for whites” slogan were found at a hall of residence at Exeter.
Last September the same university launched an investigation into one of its sports societies after students were pictured wearing T-shirts bearing antisemitic and racist slogans during a freshers’ week social event.
In Dublin on Monday, a pro-Palestinian protest forced the cancellation of a talk by the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, at Trinity College.
Around 40 protesters from the Students for a Just Palestine group held an hour-long demonstration before the event was due to take place.
Campus security and the Irish police were not able to disperse the crowd and postponed the event for security reasons.
Mr Boker had been scheduled to hold a question-and-answer session on Israel with the campus group Society for International Affairs. A statement released by Israel’s embassy in Ireland said it was “horrified by the vicious actions of the group”.
Protesters had chanted slogans calling for the destruction of Israel.
SOFIA, the campus group that invited Boker to speak, wrote on its Facebook page that dialogue was important, even with those of differing viewpoints.
Elsewhere in Ireland, one of the organisers of a three-day anti-Israel conference in Cork, featuring a panel of anti-Zionist academics, has been forced to turn to social media to warn off antisemites and Holocaust deniers from attending the event.
Dr Piaras MacEinri, a lecturer at University College Cork, is on the organising committee of the event, which will see academics question the right of Israel to exist.
On February 9, Dr MacEinri tweeted: “Cork conference on Israel WILL TAKE PLACE — Academic event — Anti-Semites, Holocaust Deniers etc NOT WELCOME.”
Organisers are currently finalising a venue for the first two days of the event, after University College Cork, refused permission for use of its campus.
But UCC has said that the third day of the conference can take place within its grounds, providing the organisers satisfy health and safety regulations.