Jewish Society criticises ORF speakers for alleged ties to anti-Semitism

Jsoc condemn controversial lineup, which includes NUS President Malia Bouattia

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Speakers at the Oxford Radical Forum (ORF), including controversial NUS President Malia Bouattia, have been condemned by Oxford University Jewish Society (OUJS) for alleged ties to anti-Semitism.

ORF is described by the organisers as “a three day event for the radical left, held in Wadham”, although the College has not confirmed that they are hosting the event. There are currently seven speakers announced.

OUJS said in a statement made to Cherwell: “OUJS stands in opposition to the decision of ORF 2017 to host Miriyam Aouragh and Malia Bouattia.

“84 per cent of our voting members last year voted that they are unable to reconcile their Jewish identity with Bouattia’s presidency of the NUS, and 57 Jewish Society presidents across the country condemned her comments. Further, the Home Affairs Select Committee have condemned her ‘outright racism’ and an NUS investigation decided that her content had been anti-Semitic.

“Last term, our own student union called for Bouattia to issue a full and formal apology, and should stand down otherwise. Jewish students are still waiting.

“We believe that our community should not be inviting speakers who espouse anti-Semitism and hate speech. They should not be afforded a platform to spread their opinion.”

ORF’s committee told Cherwell: “ORF is a weekend of events designed to critically interrogate current political issues from a range of left-wing perspectives, and has been a fixture of intellectual life at Oxford for almost a decade. We consider the speakers to be well qualified to take part in the specific debates to which they have been invited.

“ORF is not committed to a unified political line and as such cannot and does not endorse all the views held by speakers. Its purpose is to enable critical exchange, self-reflection, and mutual questioning, and to contribute to vibrant and nuanced debates about key political issues of the day.”

Bouattia was elected NUS President in 2016, but soon came under fire for stating that “with mainstream Zionist-led media outlets… resistance is resented as an act of terrorism”.

The Home Affairs select committee said of her: “Referring to Birmingham University as a ‘Zionist outpost’ (and similar comments) smacks of outright racism, which is unacceptable, and even more so from a public figure such as the president of the NUS.”

Another figure due to speak at ORF is Richard Seymour, a far-left blogger who previously spoke at at the forum in 2015.

Seymour responded on Facebook to criticism of Jeremy Corbyn by Simon Weston, a British veteran of the Falklands war who suffered 46 per cent burns to his face after his ship was bombed, by writing “Seriously, who gives a shit about what Simon Weston thinks? If he knew anything he’d still have his face.”

Later that year he wrote of an Israeli journalist reporting on Israel-Palestine “Fuck him, they should cut his throat”.

He has also appeared multiple times on Press TV, the Iranian state broadcaster that has been accused of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, and wrote on his Leninology blog that “it’s sensible for occupied people to attack and kill British troops”, and “the poppies should be burned – not just a few, in a symbolic Islam4UK-style action, but all of them in a mass cremation; and any family members who actually sign up to wear a uniform of the armed forces in Afghanistan or anywhere else should be shunned, not loved.”

In a statement Seymour apologised for his comments mocking Simon Weston and calling for the murder of an Israeli journalist, referring to them as “off-hand, off-colour statements made over a year ago in what I had assumed were private exchanges.

“These exchanges involved, as far as I was aware, a small number of friends who would know from the context that they were not intended literally or maliciously…

“To be absolutely clear. I do not think that Simon Weston’s injuries deserve ridicule. I emphatically do not think that people who advocate for the West Bank settlers should have their throats cut… I am, of course, very sorry to anyone who was hurt.”

Seymour declined to respond to these allegations in relation to ORF. He pointed Cherwell towards his earlier apology.

Another speaker on the lineup this year is Miriyam Aouragh, a Dutch anthropologist and activist.

In 2004, Aouragh attended a memorial service in Amsterdam for Ahmed Yassin, a Hamas founder and ‘spiritual leader’ who was killed by an Israeli helicopter gunship..

In their statement to Cherwell, OUJS condemned her attendance as a tie to Hamas, describing the group as “a terrorist organisation whose charter issued in 1988 is overtly anti-Semitic, stating the need to kill Jews and referring to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

Speaking to Cherwell, Aouragh said: “Like many I was very angry about Israel’s murderous targeted killings campaign between 2000-2004, which saw hundreds of political activists and leaders assassinated when the popular uprising in 2000 broke out.

“These war crimes were condemned across the political spectrum, especially the ‘collateral damage’ caused by extrajudicial killings using F16s, such as collapsing buildings with families in them and the killing of bystanders when cars were blown up.

“One case was that of Ahmed Yassin of Hamas, an elderly man in a wheelchair living in a refugee camp in Gaza. I was part of a protest against the incredible violence of that period, many were making this argument, including the UN, the EU, as well as a large numbers of MPs in this country.”

Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) Council, Somerville JCR, and Magdalen JCR have each voted to donate hundreds of pounds to support the event sparking further controversy.

OUSU and Somerville JCR both pledged £150 and Magdalen £200 to cover the costs of bringing the speakers to Oxford.

OUJC condemned OUSU’s funding of the forum: “We believe that our students’ union and JCRs should not be supporting this event and therefore demand that their funding for the Oxford Radical Forum 2017 be withdrawn.”

OUSU Communications Manager, Jo Gregory-Brough told Cherwell: “OUSU weren’t aware of any such allegations against the motion but take them very seriously. With this in mind, the OUSU Sabbatical team are looking into the allegations as a matter of urgency and from which a conclusion will be drawn regarding the funding.”

Somerville JCR President Alex Crichton-Miller said: “ORF puts on panels for all sorts of currently relevant issues, and this absolutely does not mean it endorses each and every word the speakers have said in the past nor might say at the ORF.”

Magdalen’s JCR Executive Committee released a joint statement:”We were unaware of the speakers at the time the motion came to be voted on. We condemn anti-Semitism in all forms.”

This is not the first time that ORF has invited speakers with alleged ties to anti-Semitism. Max Blumenthal, who spoke in 2016, has been criticised for his 2013 book Goliath, Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, in which he compared Israel to Nazi Germany, advocated that the majority of Jews currently living in Israel be removed to make way for a Palestinian state, and referred to Israeli soldiers as ‘Judeo-Nazis’.

Malia Bouattia and Max Blumenthal have not replied to Cherwell’s request for comment.

Correction: The original version of this story (published 17/02/2017) carried the headline “Oxford Radical Forum speakers criticised for anti-Semitism ties”. We have amended the article and its headline to emphasise that the ties are alleged, and to make clear that criticism came from involved parties, and not from Cherwell. We have also clarified some of the alleged ties and contextualised them. We apologise for any upset or confusion caused.