Glasgow University’s pro-Israel crackdown on free speech slammed by academics

Middle East Monitor  /  October 26, 2021

Five hundred distinguished academics and activists have signed a petition accusing Glasgow University of undermining academic freedom after the institution apologized following complaints that an article published in 2017 is anti-Semitic.

The signatories include internationally-renowned philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky, Nobel Prize-winning chemist George Smith and film director Ken Loach. Indeed, supporters come from 28 different countries, reported The Scotsman.

Among them is Ronnie Kasrils, the former South African government minister and key figure in the African National Congress during the apartheid era. Other signatories include historian Sheila Rowbotham, musician Brian Eno and Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC.

The university issued an apology for the publication of a peer reviewed paper four years ago in the scholarly journal eSharp, which examined methods used by Israel to influence public opinion and get support from the British Government. Written by Jane Jackman, a former postgraduate student at Exeter University, the article remains on the eSharp website but now includes a preface from the editorial board, including the apology, which was added in May.

Several complaints were made after the addition of the preface, including one from Jackman’s academic supervisor, Israeli historian Professor Ilan Pappé. Glasgow University has defended the decision and insisted that it is “committed” to academic freedom.

“Academic freedom is very crucial to the whole standing of the academic enterprise,” said Jonathan Rosenhead, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics and chair of the British Committee for Universities of Palestine, one of those who collected signatures for the petition. “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.”

Prof. Rosenhead explained that 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 [allegedly] ‘anti-Semitic’.”

Glasgow University’s pro-Israel crackdown on academic freedom — despite its claim to the contrary — follows a heated row over academic freedom at the University of Bristol, which sacked Professor David Miller following complaints by pro-Israel students over comments he had made about Zionism. The university had previously adopted a highly controversial definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of the State of Israel and its founding ideology Zionism with racism towards Jews.

Miller was cleared of the charge that he is anti-Semitic by an investigation which concluded that the academic had “no case to answer” and that “there is no basis for any disciplinary action against Professor Miller.” Nevertheless, Bristol University went ahead and sacked him regardless.