The emptiness of the University of Leeds’ adoption of the International Definition of Antisemitism has been laid bare, after the institution failed to take any meaningful action against a professor with a record of tweets that breach the Definition.
Last year, Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote to the University regarding Ray Bush, who was then a Professor of African Studies and Development Politics. Prof. Bush appeared to have tweeted from the Twitter handle “@raymondobush” a large number of tweets that breach the Definition. Prof. Bush’s profile page on the University’s website links to the offending Twitter handle.
There were three types of breaches.
First, the tweets stated that Israel’s existence itself is unacceptable, using the exact language of the Definition in referring to Jewish self-determination as “a racist endeavour”. The Definition states that “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour)” is antisemitic. This claim was repeated on numerous occasions:
- “#DefyIHRA the state of #Israel is a #racist endeavour”
- “#defyIHRA the state of Israel is a racist endeavour. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is a threat to free expression | Ash Sarkar https://theguardian.com/commentisfree/”
- “#racistendeavour #warcrimes #Israel join the dots and understand why Israel is a zionist entity and settler colonial regime that exists solely because of US money and European guilt. #endtheoccupation”
- “#Labourparty #NEC big mistake with #IHRA #Israel is a racist endeavour and what about other discrimination? Is NEC recognising defined discrimination and racism of #BAME ? #Corbyn got outflanked by #Zionists time to recalibrate and take offensive against occupation of #Palestine”
- “So, @Keir_Starmer prefers a #LabourParty without @RLong_Bailey. Shane [sic] on him and all the other #labourparty members failing to recognise #zionism as a pernicious #racist ideology promoted by zealots to dehumanise #Palestinians”
- “So it continues, use an anti Semite smear, stop progressive politics #Zionism is #racism amongst other things ….”
- “Of course @MarkSerwotka is right #Israel #hasbara #zionism #racism”
Second, the tweets breached the Definition by comparing Israelis and Zionists to Nazis. According to the Definition: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is antisemitic. For example, the following was tweeted:
- “Does it take a nazi to recognise a #nazi #Israel #racism ?”
- “#nazi-zionistalliance #zionism #settlercolonialism hold onto power whoever you align with”
Third, the tweets contravened the Definition by claiming that concerns about institutional antisemitism in the Labour Party, which were vindicated by the report of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, were due to a campaign run by the “Israeli embassy.” The tweets thus supported one of the oldest tropes used to justify acts of antisemitism: the discredited myth of a Jewish conspiracy in which Jews are disloyal and act as a fifth column against the interests of their home countries. The Definition states that: “Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions” is antisemitic. This was done in tweets including:
- “The reason they hate Corbyn of course is because he is anti #Zionist and the antisemitic campaign is ran by the #Israeli embassy among others
- “Always rely on @guardian to get it right on #antisemitism thanks for all your help demonising #Corbyn and #Labour the #Israeli embassy will be delighted. Who is next in your mediocre target?”
The University acknowledged receipt of our letter and pledged to revert to us, but not only did the institution fail to do so, but there is no evidence that any investigation into Prof. Bush and the Twitter account bearing his name ever took place. In the meantime, Prof. Bush has retired, and now holds the prestigious position of Emeritus Professor of African Studies and Development Politics, which means that he is still connected to the University. Indeed, his profile page on the University’s website links to his offending Twitter account.
Neither the University of Leeds nor Prof. Bush responded to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “We have always been clear that adoption of the International Definition of Antisemitism is only a first step. What is vital is that universities actually apply the Definition when allegations of antisemitism arise. In this case, not only has the University of Leeds apparently failed to do so, but there is no indication that it launched any investigation at all. Instead, it has allowed Ray Bush to retire quietly and assume the prestigious position of emeritus professor, while continuing to advertise the offending Twitter account on its website.
“These tweets are clearly in breach of the International Definition of Antisemitism. Anyone airing and disseminating dangerous antisemitic views is not fit to be entrusted with the responsibility of teaching young people. For this reason, it was important for the matter to be properly investigated and for consequences to follow. Leeds missed this opportunity to demonstrate that it takes the safety of its Jewish students seriously. Now, the University must explain why it failed to take action.”
If any students are concerned about antisemitism on campus or need assistance, they can call us on 0330 822 0321, or e-mail [email protected].