Thursday, February 18, 2016
Oxford University's Labour club embroiled in anti-Semitism row
Oxford University's student Labour club, that was previously a platform for Ed Miliband and Michael Foot, has become embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.
The club's chairman Alex Chalmers has resigned in protest after claiming that its members have "some kind of problem with Jews" and sympathise with terrorist groups like Hamas.
Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), where dozens of former Labour leaders, Cabinet Members and MPs have cut their political teeth, is one of the largest student Labour clubs in the UK.
Mr Chalmers, an undergraduate at Oriel College, said on Monday night that despite the Labour club's "commitment to liberation", it had a "poisonous" attitude toward certain groups.
In a resignation statement publicly posted on Facebook, Mr Chalmers explained that members of the OULC Executive had been "throwing around the term 'Zio' (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon".
Senior members of the club had been "expressing their 'solidarity' with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians", he added.
Chalmers said that ever since Labour's defeat at the general election, he had become "increasingly worried about the state of OULC".
He concluded that "a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews".
Chalmers cited OULC’s decision on Monday to endorse Israel Apartheid Week as a reason for his resignation, a movement which he said had "a history of targetting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses".
Labour Students, a national student organisation which is affiliated to the Labour Party, said they were "deeply troubled" to hear reports of anti-semitism at "one of our most prominent Labour Clubs".
The organisation said in a statement: "We unequivocally condemn any form of anti-Semitism" adding that it takes the allegations "very seriously."
"We will do whatever is necessary o ensure every Labour Club is a safe space for Jewish Students," a spokesman said.
"We are proud of the long history we have of working with the Union of Jewish Students and the National Union of Students to protect Jewish students on campus and this will always be a top priority for Labour Students."
It comes as the Government revealed proposals to ban local government, public bodies and student unions from boycotting Israel.
Last month, police were called after King's College London's student Israel society was attacked by demonstrators.
Witnesses described a mob throwing chairs and smashing windows, while pictures show officers standing guard outside the building.
Oxford University said that it "does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation – including on the grounds of religion and belief."
The University "expects all members of the University community, its visitors and contractors to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration," the statement went on.
The University encouraged students who have experienced "harassment on the grounds of religion" to report incidents to university authorities.
Baroness Deech, a cross bench peer and former principal at St Anne's College, was among dozens of Oxford friends and alumni who on Tuesday night signed an open letter saying they "observe with horror" Chalmer's observations about the Labour Club's anti-Semitism.
Signatories to the letter urged OULC to reverse its "distressing decision" to enforce Israeli Apartheid week.
Australia: Computer lab for black use only
University boss Peter Coaldrake tries to square the circle of discriminating racially while not being racially discriminatory. He probably wants to say that some racial discrimination is good but fears the can of worms that would open up. He would never live it down if he said that. People might ask him: "Why not drinking fountains for blacks only?" Note that discriminating in favour of blacks in American universities has been outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court
A top university agrees with a claim by a former employee in a racial vilification case that the Oodgeroo Unit and computer lab on its main Brisbane campus "is provided for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students only".
But Queensland University of Technology, which released its legal responses yesterday to the Federal Circuit Court in the racial vilification row, denies it is endorsing or facilitating racial segregation at Oodgeroo.
The legal responses disclose that Cindy Prior, a Brisbane woman running a $247,470 damages claim against students, QUT and academics, wanted a "duress alarm, fast dial access to security, 24-hour swipe card access to a computer lab and a security guard patrol" because she feared for her safety if non-indigenous students entered her work area, a "culturally safe space".
Ms Prior was an administrative officer in the Oodgeroo Unit when she turned away three students in 2013 because they were not indigenous. Her decision to refuse the students access to the computers that were not being used led to Facebook posts which described racial segregation.
Ms Prior alleges in her case that the Facebook posts and the related actions of QUT and its staff have caused her hurt and psychiatric injury and stopped her from working for two years. She has accused the students of racial vilification under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The university and two of its staff, professor Anita Lee Hong and director of equity Mary Kelly, want the court to dismiss Ms Prior’s application, which began with a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2014.
A key question arising from the case is whether the operation of the Oodgeroo Unit breached anti-discrimination laws if it was set up, as stated by Ms Prior and agreed yesterday by QUT, for use "only" by indigenous students.
QUT said in its court reply that "many public Australian universities have established and are maintaining similar programs with similar objectives for similar reasons" as the Oodgeroo Unit.
It said the unit had operated successfully for 25 years "in a way which has furthered the purposes for which it was established and has provided meaningful and effective support for indigenous students to assist them to enjoy equally with non-indigenous students the experience of and benefits of tertiary education".
It added that the unit’s facilities "are generally reserved for use by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students".
The university alleges in meetings with staff to try to resolve Ms Prior’s complaints, she wanted a "duress alarm, fast dial access to security, 24-hour swipe card access to a computer lab and a security guard patrol".
Ms Kelly, who is being sued in the case, said she told Ms Prior that in her opinion, ‘"there was no evidence that a ‘white supremacy group’ existed at QUT".
She did not believe the students who went to the unit were "part of an organised group". She indicated to Ms Prior that "there was no evidence that any student posed a physical threat to individual staff". She advised Ms Prior at an early stage the legal threshold for proving racial vilification was high and she should get legal advice before proceeding.
In an attempted return to work meeting with Ms Prior, however, "the feasibility of implementing a variety of security solutions for the Oodgeroo Unit was discussed". Professor Lee Hong expressed concern a "security guard patrol at the Oodgeroo Unit might make the students uncomfortable", but she denied a claim that she had refused to consider the option.
She said swipe card access was implemented along with fast-dial access to security, and she understood "security passes would be possible" and were pending approval.
Weeks later, medical reports by two doctors confirmed that Ms Prior, who said she has suffered a psychiatric injury and severe stress, hurt and humiliation, "was able to return to work but not at the Gardens Point Campus".
QUT said it made multiple responses to alleviate Ms Prior’s concerns and her stress.
Vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake had put a statement on the university’s web page stating "all staff and students had the right to go about their business without being offended by ill-informed remarks in the public arena". "The vice-chancellor also addressed the issue of the posts in similar terms at his campus briefings with staff, which occurred in the days following the incident," QUT’s response says. "Senior staff members of the university met with indigenous student representatives to discuss the support that could be offered by the university to its indigenous students in response to the incident."
The students who made the posts and are now being accused of racial hatred have strenuously denied the claims. They are being defended by Tony Morris QC, who intends to mount a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 18C.
Students fear effect of ‘outrageous law’ on QUT campus culture
The students were rightly angered by being discriminated against on the basis of their race. Now they are being sued for saying they were victims of racial discrimination
Jack McGuire, a law student at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, has a message for Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis.
Mr McGuire wants the Prime Minister and Attorney-General to urgently amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which is embroiling QUT students in claims of racial hatred that threaten their reputations, careers and health.
"It is absolutely ridiculous that it has got to the stage where the courts are involved," Mr McGuire, 23, the immediate past president of the Students Guild at QUT, told The Australian.
"Universities are supposed to be a place of ideas and learning and debating. The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General should be looking at this and stepping in to help not just those students who are being effectively prosecuted in the Federal Circuit Court in this case brought by Cindy Prior but others who will be caught in future cases."
Guild president Phil Johnson said: "At most, this is an issue for QUT’s disciplinary procedures, certainly not a federal court."
Mr Johnson said his main concerns revolved around the impact on freedom of speech. "This case sets a dangerous precedent and it’s concerning that students might now have reservations about discussing topical issues in fear of ending up in court," he said.
Mr McGuire said that if 18C was not repealed, it should be amended to increase the threshold "so that people can’t use it to claim they are hurt and humiliated" in legal actions.
"Having been around some of the students (involved), it is quite clear that they have suffered enormously from being brought before court and labelled racist.
"For the sake of these students and all students, the government needs to revisit this outrageous law and at least take a middle of the road approach in amending 18C, if not striking it out altogether."
Mr McGuire said the law was sufficiently broad and open to subjective interpretation that his comments in this article could potentially be construed as hurtful to an indigenous person, resulting in an 18C case.
Posted by jonjayray at 1:42 AM