While JewThink has no editorial ‘line’, it exists to be a platform for debate and discussion within and outside the UK Jewish community. We were approached by the organisers of the following jointly-signed letter that was published in the Jewish Chronicle on 23 December 2020. They wished to ensure that the letter was more visible online. They have also included preliminary contextual information and a full list of signatories. JewThink is happy to provide this platform and would be equally happy, in principle, to provide a platform for those holding different views.
A recent attack on Professor David Feldman, whose leadership of the Pears Institute is widely admired internationally, has prompted a strong response from British-based scholars of Jewish / non-Jewish relations.
On 2 December, Professor Feldman published an article in The Guardian criticising the attempt by Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, to impose the IHRA working definition of antisemitism on universities. The article acknowledges that ‘antisemitism does arise in Britain’s universities’, and argues that universities should protect Jewish students through the application of the law on equality and codes of conduct drawn up on principles which can be applied equally to all religious and racial minorities.
In response to this article, a comment piece by Philip Spencer and Dave Rich appeared on 15 December on the website of the Jewish Chronicle, accusing Feldman of ‘encouraging those who denigrate Jews’ and ’not taking antisemitism seriously’. Their article was given prominent coverage in the news pages of that week’s printed paper, in which their accusations were broadly reiterated in the JC’s editorial.
Firmly repudiating these accusations, and expressing their support and admiration for the work of Professor Feldman and the Pears Insitute, twenty-eight British-based senior scholars of Jewish / non-Jewish relations swiftly signed this letter to the Jewish Chronicle editor:
As British-based scholars of Jewish / non-Jewish relations, we believe it is vital that the study of antisemitism is maintained as a rigorous and non-partisan field. Under the leadership of David Feldman, the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck has been exemplary. Professor Feldman has consistently brought together voices from different perspectives and communities, resisting politicisation and polarisation, and creating new insights and dialogues.
Dave Rich and Philip Spencer’s suggestion that Professor Feldman ‘does not take antisemitism seriously’ (JC, December 18) is a travesty of the truth. Such attacks undermine the important work of the Pears Institute, which is admired internationally as a beacon of serious study and debate.
Prof. Adam Sutcliffe, Professor of European History, King’s College London
Prof. Nadia Valman, Professor of Urban Literature, Queen Mary, University of London
Prof. Tony Kushner, Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish / non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton
Prof. Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History, Queen Mary, University of London
Prof. David Rechter, Professor of Modern Jewish History, University of Oxford
Prof. Esra Ozyurek, Sultan Qaboos Professor of Abrahamic Faiths and Shared Values, University of Cambridge
Prof. Geoffrey Alderman, Professor Emeritus, University of Buckingham
Prof. Shirli Gilbert, Professor of Modern Jewish History, UCL
Prof. Bryan Cheyette, Professor of Literature and Culture, University of Reading
Prof. Didi Herman, Professor of Law & Social Change, University of Kent
Dr. Seth Anziska, Mohamed S. Farsi-Polonsky Associate Professor of Jewish-Muslim Relations, UCL
Dr. Mia Spiro, Senior Lecturer in Modern Jewish Culture and Holocaust Studies, University of Glasgow
Prof. Tom Lawson, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences, University of Northumbria
Prof. François Guesnet, Professor of Modern Jewish History, UCL
Dr Hannah Holtschneider, Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Jacqueline Rose, Professor of Humanities, Co-Director, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities
Dr. Chana Morgenstern, Lecturer in Postcolonial and Middle East Literature, University of Cambridge
Dr. Tom Stammers, Associate Professor of Modern European History, University of Durham
Prof. Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History, UCL
Dr Andrea Schatz, Reader in Jewish Studies, King’s College London
Dr. Brian Klug, Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy, St Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford
Prof. Yossef Rapoport, Professor of Islamic History, Queen Mary, University of London
Prof. James Renton, International Centre on Racism, Edge Hill University.
Prof. Julian Weiss, Professor of Medieval & Early Modern Spanish, King’s College London
Prof. Rachel Garfield, Head of Reading School of Art, University of Reading
Dr. Marcel Stoetzler, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Bangor University
Prof. Marc David Baer, Professor of Middle Eastern and European History, LSE
Dr. Jaclyn Granick, Lecturer in Modern Jewish History, Cardiff University
Very good. Appalling there has been an attack but I’m delighted there has been such a vigorous response. My own institution has been debating a particular example in the ihra report which refers to Israel. The discussion was carried out with great respect, noting distress Jewish students had experienced but also the question of critical debate on the history of Israel and Zionism. This is always a tricky question but to launch such a vitriolic attack on Pears and Feldman deserves a robust response. The Jewish Chronicle has been out to cause mischief for some time, sadly, particularly since the editorship of Pollard, it is an uncritical supporter of the antisemitic leader of the tory party and of the antisemitism prevalent in Israel’s ruling party. Note also the author of the ihra is unhappy at the way it’s being applied.
David Rich and Philip Spencer provided evidence and explained their position. This letter purely states likes and dislikes of the authors. No justification is provided.
The reality is that antisemitism is a very serious problem at universities and that having a good definition would provide a tool for fighting antisemitism.
I simply wish to endorse the views in support of Prof. Feldman and the Pears Institute.
Contrary to Modko’s assertion, anti-Semitism is not a serious problem at universities though supporters of Israel, by conflating support for the Palestinian and opposition to Zionism as antisemitism, do their best to inflate it.
As someone who has been involved in anti-fascist work against groups like the National Front since the mid 1970s I must confess that Zionists and Zionist groups have never been interested in such work. After all, as one Israeli shaliach informed me when we tried to put up a poster at the Jewish community centre, Ralli Hall, if you want to fight antisemitism come to Israel.
Zionism which accepts antisemitism as inherent in the Gentile never fought antisemitism.
The Jewish Chronicle today is a propaganda rag. It has e.g banned Professor Geoffrey Alderman, a columnist for 14 years and a Zionist because he dared to criticise, like David Feldman, the IHRA.
Feldman though has himself given currency to many of the attacks, going along with the racist attacks on Jackie Walker and subscribing to much of the Labour Party ‘antisemitism’ nonsense.
Dave Rich demonstrates that he is not a neutral academic with this absurd attack but a propagandist