A letter in support of David Feldman and the Pears Institute

JVL Introduction

That the Jewish Chronicle should be contemptuous of intellectual thinking it disagrees with has long been the norm.

So, when it publishes an editorial headed “Campus respect” it comes as no surprise that it is an exercise in disrespecting Prof David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study on Antisemitism.

More disturbingly, two associate members of the Pears Institute, in a vindictive act of academic vandalism, used the pages of the Jewish Chronicle to accuse their Director of not taking antisemitism seriously and of “encouraging those who denigrate Jews”.

Here 28 British-based senior scholars of Jewish/non-Jewish relations firmly repudiate these accusations and express their admiration for Prof Feldman’s work in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle.

This article was originally published by JewTh!nk on Wed 23 Dec 2020. Read the original here.

A letter in support of Professor David Feldman and the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism

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

Comments (5)

  • John Spannyard Indaworks says:

    Well that’s an august and ringing endorsement of Professor Feldman’s widely supported view, if ever there was one, and by implication telling the Zionist Chronicle, Spencer and Rich where they can stick their simplistic intellectually sclerotic knee jerk nonsense. Bravo!

  • Agnes Kory says:

    I am an amateur in politics but I can’t help thinking that Dave Rich and Philip Spencer attacked David Feldman because Feldman perhaps may not be strongly anti-left. I do not know about Feldman’s political leanings but I do know that Rich and Spencer were very diligent in suggesting Jeremy Corbyn’s antisemitism a few years ago. I witnessed veiled attacks by Philip Spencer in the Wiener Library in 2017.

  • Dave Bradney says:

    Follow the link to the JC’s leader “Campus respect” and you find this:

    … the growing success in securing the adoption of IHRA in response makes it all the more shocking that the director of Britain’s only academic centre devoted to the study of antisemitism seems to be doing his best to stop this … Given his role in the shameful Chakrabarti report into Labour antisemitism, his views deserve little respect …

    What are David Feldman’s “views”, that deserve so “little respect”? The leader won’t tell you. Not a peep. Not even the most distorted and poisonous account. Nada.

    There is something particularly arrogant, shameful and menacing about a leader that argues “this is true simply because we say it is”

  • Dr Paul says:

    So the witch-hunt proceeds from attacking a political party to attacking a respected institute within a respected university. I think this shift in target is both very worrying and very significant.

  • DJ says:

    Here we go again. Another critic of the IHRA definition of antisemitism vilified by the pro Israeli lobby. They are so “obsessed” with Israel that they want to cancel free speech and academic freedom on our campuses. Despite opposition from the UCU too many universities have capitulated to government threats to withdraw funding if they refuse to adopt this disingenuous definition. It’s time to resist this McCartyism!

Comments are now closed.