Glasgow University accused of undermining academic freedom in 'antisemitic' ruling

A group of distinguished scholars has accused Glasgow University of undermining academic freedom after the institution apologised for the publication of an article it claimed was antisemitic.

A 500-strong petition against the university’s handling of an academic paper was sent to the office of the university chancellor on Sunday.

Signatories include internationally renowned philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky, Nobel Prize winning chemist George Smith and film director Ken Loach, with supporters coming from 28 different countries.

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The petition follows the publication of a peer-reviewed paper in the university’s scholarly journal eSharp in 2017, which examined methods used by Israel to form public opinion and support from the UK Government.

The University of Glasgow has received a 500-strong petition which demands it withdraws an apology for the publication of an article which it judged to be antisemitic. PIC:

Following complaints over the content of the article, the journal issued an apology and said it recognised the paper had caused considerable offence while not meeting standards of scholarship.

It added the article promoted an “unfounded antisemitic theory” – a claim strongly rejected by the scholars who support the petition, who say criticism of Israel and its supporters cannot be conflated with antisemitism.

The petition calls for the apology to be withdrawn, along with an associated university statement that outlined its zero-tolerance to hate speech.

Professor Chomsky, institute professor and professor of linguistics emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: "The capitulation by the University of Glasgow is a serious blow to academic freedom that should not be allowed to stand.”

Glasgow University said last night that freedom of expression, the right to disagree and academic freedom was “at the heart of our mission” and the petition was being considered.

The article, which was written by Jane Jackman, a former postgraduate student at Exeter University, remains on the eSharp website and now includes a preface from the editorial board, including the apology, which was added in May.

A number of complaints followed the apology, including one from Ms Jackman’s supervisor, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, with the petition launched thereafter.

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Other signatories include historian Sheila Rowbotham and Ronnie Kasrils, the former South African government minister and key figure in the African National Congress during the apartheid era. Musician Brian Eno and Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC have also signed.

Jonathan Rosenhead, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics and chair of the British Committee for Universities of Palestine, is one of the founders of the petition.

He said: "Academic freedom is very crucial to the whole standing of the academic enterprise.

"For Glasgow, it is not a good look to be the university which crosses a new frontier in undermining research which is complained about by outside forces.

"The article was an examination of the mechanics of how Israel and its allies influence and inform public opinion with the aim of maintaining British Government support.

"It's an established area of academic research. People write similar articles about China and about Russia, but they are not accused of being anti-China or anti-Russia. But if you write an article like this on Israel, you are antisemitic.”

The making of false claims weakened the struggle against actual racism, the petition added.

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A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow, said: “The University of Glasgow is committed to supporting academic freedom and promoting equality and diversity across campus. Freedom of expression, the right to disagree, the protection of all staff and students in their right to hold views and of academic freedom are at the heart of our mission.

“We have received the petition today [Sunday] and are considering it fully. We will respond to the signatories in due course.”

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