Jewish students face mix of solidarity and antisemitic backlash for raising concerns over appearance of controversial filmmaker Ken Loach at St Peter’s College, Oxford
Jewish students are facing an antisemitic backlash online after opposing an event with the controversial filmmaker Ken Loach, who has a history of antisemitism-denial and inflammatory comments.
The event was being hosted by Prof. Judith Buchanan, the Master of St Peter’s College, of which Mr Loach is an alumnus.
Oxford students have largely sided with their Jewish peers, with St Peter’s JCR (junior student body) voting to issue a statement condemning the event. Dialogue between Jewish students and Prof. Buchanan reportedly failed to reach an understanding.
However, Jewish students have reported to Campaign Against Antisemitism that they are also facing an antisemitic backlash over the incident, particularly online, where they have been called “rich Jewish students” and (pejoratively) “Zionists” and “f***ing Zionists”; gratuitous connections have been made to Gaza; the Talmud has been described as “satanist”, with calls to burn it; there are numerous references to Israel being a racist state, in a deliberate breach of the International Definition of Antisemitism; and portrayals have been promoted of the Oxford Jewish Society as a “lying racist organisation”. Some individual Jewish students have also been targeted.
Campaign Against Antisemitism is providing backing to the Oxford Jewish Society and has made legal assistance available.
A roster of ‘usual suspects’ in the creative industry have backed Mr Loach, with the controversial musician Roger Waters describing the effort to raise concerns over the event “McCarthyite”.
Mr Loach’s voice has been among the loudest of those who attempt to dismiss Labour’s antisemitism crisis as non-existent and a right-wing smear campaign. He claimed that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was subjected to a “torrent of abuse” that was “off the scale” and that regardless of what he did, the “campaign” of antisemitism accusations was “going to run and run”. He described the BBC’s Panorama investigation into Labour antisemitism as “disgusting because it raised the horror of racism against Jews in the most atrocious propagandistic way, with crude journalism…and it bought the propaganda from people who were intent on destroying Corbyn.”
He was also reportedly behind a motion passed by Bath Labour Party branding the Panorama programme a “dishonest hatchet job with potentially undemocratic consequences” and asserting that it “disgraced the name of Panorama and exposed the bias endemic within the BBC.” John Ware, the programme’s reporter, is apparently considering legal action against Mr Loach for his comments.
In 2017, Mr Loach caused outrage when, during an interview with the BBC, he refused to denounce Holocaust denial. The International Definition of Antisemitism states that “denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust)” is a manifestation of antisemitism. Although Mr Loach later sought to clarify his remarks, he has continued to make inflammatory and provocative statements about Labour’s antisemitism scandal.
While speaking at a meeting of the Kingswood Constituency Labour Party, Mr Loach advocated the removal from the Party of those Labour MPs, some of whom are Jewish, who have taken a principled stand against antisemitism. Shortly after that incident, the Labour Party announced that it would no longer use Mr Loach as a producer of their election broadcasts.
A spokesperson for St Peter’s College told the Oxford Student: “Ken Loach, an alumnus of St Peter’s College, has been invited by the College and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities to speak about two of his films. These films form part of a distinguished filmmaking career. This is the latest in a run of occasions on which Ken Loach has been invited to speak in College, all of which have previously been very well received by students. The event will be respected as advertised and we look forward to a good conversation about the films on this occasion.
The continued: “Significant concerns about the event have been brought clearly to the attention of College and College is committed to creating further opportunities for these concerns to be properly respected and discussed within College. St Peter’s stands vigorously against all forms of discrimination and always seeks to support students who are discriminated against. In the context of the current conversation, College affirms without reservation its very strong opposition to antisemitism. It recognises the appalling atrocities that antisemitism has wrought and can bring. While not believing that no-platforming is the way to pursue goals of a free and open academic community, it is committed to supporting students who find such decisions painful and to finding ways to address these questions within College as part of a broader, ongoing conversation.”
The Oxford Jewish Society has released an updated statement to its members: “I am sure many of you have followed the events of the past few days relating to the talk that was hosted by St Peter’s College Master, Professor Judith Buchanan, this evening. There was no mention of antisemitism in the talk itself. Professor Buchanan provided a brief explanation as to why the event was not cancelled before introducing Ken Loach. She did not directly address the allegations of antisemitism levelled at Ken Loach. Shortly after the event, multiple public figures signed a statement published on ‘Artists for Palestine UK’, entitled: ‘Artists stand with Ken Loach and against McCarthyism’. Following that, [the musician and controversial activist] Roger Waters…shared our statement directly on Facebook, and then on Twitter. Accompanying his post is a trope-ridden caption that reads: ‘Don’t let the Israeli Lobby rewrite our dictionaries with this McCarthyite, racist, claptrap. We know what antisemitism is, and being anti-Israeli apartheid ain’t any part of it.’
“As a result of this, the statement has garnered huge publicity, and with that, antisemitic comments have been posted on the JSoc Facebook and Twitter pages, as it was a public post. Waters’s own post has amassed a large number of likes, shares and retweets…I am deeply sorry that this has caused so many students such upset and anger. We were left with little choice by the leadership at St Peter’s in publishing a statement. And we will continue to do everything we can to protect students from antisemitic speakers, and from antisemitism itself.”
The Jewish Society has offered assistance to members.
Binyomin Gilbert, Programme Manager at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “Despite his history of incessant antisemitism-denial and over the objections of Jewish students, the controversial filmmaker Ken Loach was invited to one of Britain’s most prestigious universities. Now, Jewish students are facing an extreme antisemitic backlash merely for raising concerns, and we are making available legal assistance and support. We are particularly grateful to the Oxford student body for their solidarity with their Jewish peers. It is perverse that someone who spouts hate and belittles the lived experience of Jews is given a platform while those who courageously call him out find themselves targeted by hate.”
The University of Oxford has adopted the International Definition of Antisemitism.
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].