In response to the decision of St Peter’s College to invite the filmmaker Ken Loach, who has a history of making antisemitic remarks, and the subsequent poor handling of the College in dismissing the students’ concerns and refusing to apologise or alter the event to contextualise Loach’s work, Wadham SU has passed an emergency motion on Tuesday, 9th February, to express solidarity with the Jewish community and renew its commitment to a zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism.
The motion resolves to:
Formally condemn the actions of St Peter’s College and Professor Judith Buchanan in poorly handling the concerns of Jewish students, refusing to alter the event to acknowledge the comments which Loach has made and which many feel are antisemitic, falsely presenting this whole incident as a “no-platforming” attempt in order to discredit the concerns raised, and refusing to apologise for or even acknowledge any of the above. […]
Commit to improving our own understanding of antisemitism and Jewish identity as a college, and working to provide adequate welfare resources and support for Jewish students affected by antisemitism. […]
The motion was passed with 150 votes for, 4 against, and 14 abstain. Read the full motion below:
This SU notes that:
- St Peter’s College invited the filmmaker and alumnus Ken Loach to speak at an event titled “Ken Loach in conversation with Professor Judith Buchanan” for 8th February.
- Loach has repeatedly made remarks which violate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, adopted formally by the University of Oxford, or can otherwise be construed as antisemitic.
- He initially refused to condemn Holocaust denial by responding to a question on whether debating the historical fact of the Holocaust is acceptable by saying “History is for all of us to discuss. All history is our common heritage to discuss and analyse.” 
- He immediately then said “The founding of the State of Israel, for example, based on ethnic cleansing, is there for us to discuss” . This comment instantly diverts attention away from the Holocaust and can be interpreted as an offensive trivialisation of it.
- He has repeatedly outright denied any antisemitism within the Labour Party, saying that “their aim is to destabilise Jeremy’s leadership… there is no validity to it … whatsoever.” . However, in October 2020 a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Labour party was responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act in relation to antisemitism within the party : political interference in antisemitism complaints; failure to provide adequate training to those handling antisemitism complaints; and harassment, including the use of antisemitic tropes and suggesting that complaints of antisemitism were fake or smears. Loach’s statement therefore is simply untrue, gaslights Jewish people about their own experiences of antisemitism, and feeds into an age-old antisemitic conspiracy narrative about Jews coordinating an attempt to control politics – as well as in itself being a violation of the Equality Act as mentioned above.
- Loach has said of the rise in antisemitism across Europe in modern times that he is “not surprised” and that “it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism” : , which may be deemed to imply that Jews are responsible for their own persecution and marginalisation owing to an erroneous conflation of the Jewish people with the Israeli government, which is in violation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
- When Jewish students raised concerns about Loach’s invitation to speak, the Master of the college, Professor Judith Buchanan, held a meeting with them on 7th February in which she:
- Claimed, without substantiation, that “some Jews don’t think it’s offensive”, which may be considered a dismissal of their concerns
- Said that she didn’t know about his antisemitism because she hadn’t read his Wikipedia page
- Refused to cancel the event, seemingly because it would be bad for PR: “I don’t want to create additional publicity […] it would be huge to cancel an invitation at this point”
- Seemed to put the burden on Jewish students to find a workable solution: “There isn’t a way through this that you will be fully happy with – I’m not going to cancel it”
- Following further protests by Jewish students at the University, on 8th February St Peter’s College issued a statement on Twitter  in which they did not apologise for holding an event of this kind with Loach, the poor handling of the meeting with Jewish students to discuss the event, or the subsequent distress caused to Jewish students. The statement also made no mention of the allegations of antisemitism against Loach, and reiterated that the event would go ahead as planned.
This SU believes that:
- Ken Loach holds beliefs which can be considered antisemitic, and St Peter’s College has failed in its duty of care to Jewish students by putting on an event which celebrates his career without providing the contextual information of the harm he has caused to Jews in this country and across the world with the comments he has made.
- The way in which the Master of the college treated Jewish students and their concerns during her meeting with them was poorly handled and insensitive.
- The subsequent Twitter statement by St Peter’s College unacceptably continued to downplay the hurt caused to Jewish students and dismiss their concerns, while refusing to apologise, make any changes to the event, or acknowledge their allegations of Loach’s antisemitism.
- Claiming that refusing to make any changes to the event is in the interests of creating “a free and open academic community” is at best disingenuous, and at worst a mockery of the Jewish students who have expressed concerns. There can be no “free and open academic community” when the basic facts of Loach’s impact on public life are not acknowledged and opportunities to interrogate and criticise his viewpoints are not provided. Dismissing the hurt and anger of the Jewish community as a “no-platforming” attempt subsumes their justified reaction against the celebration of an individual deemed antisemitic into an incendiary buzzword which needlessly politicises the issue.
- The claim that the college is “committed to supporting students who find such decisions painful” seems to Jewish students to be meaningless when the college insists on making and upholding such painful decisions in the first place. Likewise, its claim to have a “very strong opposition to anti-semitism” can be read as disingenuous when it seems to prioritise a PR fallout above the wellbeing of Jewish students who have raised concerns. This appears to demonstrate that the college’s support for marginalised students only extends so far as those students are able pose a threat to its PR. It is a stance which takes advantage of how small a minority Jewish students are to reinforce their marginalisation.
- The actions of St Peter’s College in this incident seem to illustrate a lack of understanding of what antisemitism constitutes. The Master of the college put the onus on distressed Jewish students to ‘prove’ that Loach’s viewpoints are antisemitic, and continues to refuse to acknowledge that they can be considered such even now. As the Union of Jewish Students noted in its repost of Oxford Jewish Society’s statement on the incident to its Facebook page, this incident also represents a complete betrayal of the commitment made by the University of Oxford last summer to pursue anti-racist work.
This SU resolves to:
- Formally condemn the actions of St Peter’s College and Professor Judith Buchanan in poorly handling the concerns of Jewish students, refusing to alter the event to acknowledge the comments which Loach has made and which many feel are antisemitic, falsely presenting this whole incident as a “no-platforming” attempt in order to discredit the concerns raised, and refusing to apologise for or even acknowledge any of the above.
- Demand a full and sincere apology from St Peter’s College.
- Stand in solidarity with Jewish students at St Peter’s College and throughout the University of Oxford in their condemnation of this incident.
- Commit to actively upholding a zero-tolerance policy against antisemitism and the minimisation or denial of its existence.
- Commit to improving our own understanding of antisemitism and Jewish identity as a college, and working to provide adequate welfare resources and support for Jewish students affected by antisemitism.
- This must include a particular sensitivity to the complexity of Jewish identity, which many Jews consider to be ethnoreligious, and the fact that many Jews in this country (though not all) are “white-passing” / “white-functioning”. This means that Jewish students – including those who benefit from white privilege – can simultaneously be targeted by white supremacy on the basis of their Jewish ethnic identity and feel alienated from spaces or resources designed to help marginalised ethnic groups. We must work to combat this alienation.
Proposed by: Leah Mitchell
Seconded by: Aaron Kai Shankar