Glasgow University retreats over ‘antisemitic’ label for journal article

US linguist Noam Chomsky, who was among 550 academics who signed the petition calling on Glasgow University to respect free speech.

JVL Introduction

“Sometimes,” in the words of poet Sheenagh Pugh, ” things don’t go, after all, from bad to worse.”

Such is the case with Glasgow University in relation to a peer-reviewed article in its online eSharp journal.

In a capitulation to external pressure, the University had proposed labeling one of its articles as propounding an “unfounded antisemitic theory”.

In a significant climbdown it now proposes merely saying that the article contains “what some would regard as an unfounded theory” about Israel.

It’s better than it was!

But until Glasgow sticks a preface in front of every peer-reviewed article saying they might contain theories that other academics regard as unfounded the Glasgow University action falls far short of any academic freedom criterion you might care to elaborate.

Or it could simply not have a qualificatory preface at all. As is the norm with academic publications where it is assumed the author is making an argument that others might contest (It is called academic writing.)

This article was originally published by The Guardian on Wed 10 Nov 2021. Read the original here.

Glasgow University retreats over ‘antisemitic’ label for journal article

Preface apology for paper on pro-Israel advocacy removed after free speech petition involving Noam Chomsky

The University of Glasgow has backed down from labelling a peer-reviewed journal article about pro-Israel lobbying as “antisemitic”, amid criticism from leading international academics.

The university was criticised for undermining academic freedom after it appended a preface in May to the four-year-old paper, apologising for its publication and claiming it promoted an “unfounded antisemitic theory”.

The university republished the article this week with a new preface, removing the apology and instead saying the paper promoted “what some would regard as an unfounded theory” about Israel.

The climbdown came after Noam Chomsky, the US linguist and foreign policy critic, and George Smith, a Nobel prize-winning chemist, were among more than 550 academics who signed a petition handed to Glasgow two weeks ago calling on the university to assert its commitment to free speech.

“[Glasgow’s] untenable position implies that other groups, states and corporations can all be the subject of critical academic analysis, but commentary on pro-Israel advocacy must be limited,” they said.

The article, published in Glasgow’s eSharp journal, for early career academics, had argued that “an Israeli state-sponsored strategy [was] focused on controlling public opinion in the UK”. It said Israel sought to “harness the resources of grassroots Zionist supporters” to bolster British government support for Israel, and to “discredit and neutralise pro-Palestinian discourses”.

Glasgow added the new preface to the article in May, after complaints and a story about the controversy in the Jewish Chronicle.

Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, of the London School of Economics, who helped to coordinate the petition, said he welcomed the university’s removal of the antisemitism accusation.

But he added: “The university has completely failed to justify either its original insulting preface, or the need for any preface at all. It seems that it is trying desperately both to move and not to move; it’s trying to make a change which will defuse the academic anger about what it’s done without triggering a new burst of hostilities from defenders of Israel, and it seems to me quite possible it will have satisfied neither.”

David Collier, a pro-Israel campaigner, who was referenced in the paper and who published a rebuttal on his website, described the removal of the apology as “an act of cowardice”.

The research in the paper “didn’t hold up”, Collier said. “It was a gutter piece and the underlying thread was that people like myself are effectively fifth columnists working inside the UK for a foreign nation – which is a basic antisemitic trope.”

A spokesperson for Glasgow said the university was committed to supporting academic freedom, adding: “The university does not agree that publication of the editorial is damaging to academic freedom. The article remains on the journal’s website and readers are free to endorse it or challenge it as they see fit.”

Comments (9)

  • Collier fails to either deny or verify whether or not he and “those like him” are “fifth columnists” but alleges that the mere suggestion of this is “an antisemitic trope” This comment plainly reveals Colliers indefensible assumption that ANY accusation against Israel is “an antisemitic trope.” Collier clearly implies that Israel and those affiliated to Israel must be above criticism. But how can a statement be antisemitic if it is true?

  • John Bowley says:

    Oh dear, oh dear. What a load of old cobblers from a seat of learning.

    It is obvious that a foreign government is persistently interfering in British affairs for its own advantage. The usual suspects, which the establishment media regularly freaks out over, are unlikely to be the perpetrators here. At which the British establishment thinks it fair and right to see no evil in this.

  • Alasdair MacVarish says:

    The pro-Zionist lobby will never be satisfied so no point in appeasing them. Disgraceful that a university should seek to restrict debate on any issue. They would have tortured Copernicus

  • John Bowley says:

    In a strange twist, I went on from the quoted JC article to another which seemed more credibly reported in that it was an account of MPs drunk on a plane. Old farts like me may dimly recall an incident of some famous Labour MPs who were reported as being unsteady on an official trip, who collected substantial damages for defamation from the newspaper at the time and who long afterwards boasted of how they were really as drunk as lords. Such honesty and candidness are long time Labour values.

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    I haven’t read the original article which, according to the Guardian, says that “an Israeli state-sponsored strategy focused on controlling public opinion in the UK” and that Israel sought to “harness the resources of grassroots Zionist supporters” to bolster British government support for Israel, and to “discredit and neutralise pro-Palestinian discourses”.
    Surely this is a statement of the obvious and could pertain to just about any state’s PR efforts. In Australia the emphasis has been on this phenomenon as organised by the Chinese state. Kenan Malik, in a number of books, has variously described similar activities organised by the Saudis and by Iran.
    It cannot be that accusing the Chinese of trying to influence public opinion in Australia is OK but accusing Israel of the same is an antisemitic “trope”.

  • Richard Hobson says:

    A glimmer of light. Now let’s get Miller reinstated or employed by another university.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    A ‘trope’ has become a very fashionable word applicable to………….? Is this cultural appropriation of language?

  • Caroline Carney says:

    It was the academic equivalent of printing a warning about hot liquids on a cup of coffee. They may as well have put “warning this paper contains opinions”

  • Teresa Grover says:

    It is a sad day when one very devious & manipulating State that Oppresses thousands of people & steals their freedoms & lands since 1948, has spread its toxic lies & propagandas into the Halls of learning!
    Shame on all Universities everywhere for bowing down to such an obscenity as blackmail & threats!
    Students learn from many sources, some are unsavoury but it is essential to read, hear, see from all sides to get the clear picture of any subject even the aborrent ones!
    All Universities , ALL, must stop the interference of places like Israel.
    Israel has an agenda that holds no Human Rights, no humanity, compassion or tolerance of anyone except Zionists. Illegal settlers come from the US , again with Universities gagged by Israel. It has to stop , universal learning is not Zionists business & it should remain free from violent, threatening , blackmail from Israel. Thank goodess we have Chomsky, Finkelstein all those who stand for learning freedom etcetc.

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