This summer, political debate has often centred on anti-Semitism in the British left. Debate has been exacerbated following concerns about Labour leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn’s connections to Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and other alleged anti-Semites. Jewish groups have also been warning of an increasing atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the UK and across Europe as a whole. Oxford itself has seen some of the left accused of tolerating anti-Jewish sentiment, particularly on the Facebook group “Skin Deep”, which is seen by many as the go-to place to discuss race-based issues for many students.
Earlier this week, VERSA was alerted to an allegedly anti-Semitic tweet by the Co-Chair of OUSU’s CRAE and Corpus Christi JCR BME officer, Kiran Benipal. The tweet, seen in full below, was a response to a joke – which was not penned by Benipal and has since been deleted.
The orignial Tweet, due to Twitter’s layout we didn’t have the full quoted Tweet
Benipal gave VERSA a screenshot of the full quoted Tweet
Upon becoming aware of the tweet, a representative of JSoc (Oxford’s Jewish Society) issued the following statement:
“Oxford JSoc condemns this blatant anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms. At a time of rising anti-Semitism in the UK, it is shocking that a so-called Equality Officer in our own student union and in her college JCR would deem it acceptable to trivialise such discrimination in a public forum. We hope for a public apology and call on the relevant bodies to reassess her ability to represent students in light of these views.”
VERSA was also pointed to the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)’s formal definition of anti-Semitism, which includes the following passage: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
Benipal, along with co-chair Hetal Jani, is set to lead CRAE in Michaelmas 2015. According to OUSU’s website, part of CRAE’s role is to facilitate training and workshops regarding “equality and sensitivity”, and “diversity and difference”.
When contacted by VERSA, Benipal apologised for the tweet: “I apologise unreservedly for this tweet. Belittling anti-Semitism is never acceptable, so I profoundly regret what I wrote in the heat of an argument. I was replying to another tweet, which I attach here. I was rejecting the common racist claim that Muslims are uniquely intolerant of offensive comments. It was inappropriate to instrumentalise the threat that anti-Semitism poses to the lives of Jewish people in order to make my point. This I fully accept and deeply apologise for,”
She elaborated “I fully accept that it is neither helpful nor acceptable to try to address the liberation of one group by cementing the oppression of another. My tweet was flippant, thoughtless and inappropriate. This is a time of rising anti-Semitism in the UK, and anti-Semitism should never be trivialised or ignored. My tweet was intended to address pervasive Islamophobia, not to trivialise anti-Semitism. I am sorry that in attempting the former, I also became guilty of the latter.”
Much of the controversy surrounding anti-Semitism in Oxford had been centred on race issue discussion group Skin Deep, where commenters have at times been accused of blurring the lines between Israeli and Jewish identities. An administrator, Barnaby Raine, was appointed to look out for anti-Jewish sentiment. When contacted for comment, Raine said:
“Most students at Oxford abhor anti-Semitism and will be disturbed by these comments. I find them patently offensive. I hope Kiran Benipal apologises properly. If she fails to do so, JSoc are right that her position has to be questioned.
Unfortunately these comments point to a deeper problem of mistrust between the student Left and some Jewish students, rooted in strong disagreements about Israel. As a Jewish student and a proud supporter of the Palestinian people, I hope we can resolve that mutual mistrust in the future. We should all be clear that Zionism and Jewishness are distinct, and opposition to the former need never imply hostility to the latter.”
Ali Lennon, OUSU VP for Welfare & Equal Opportunities gave a comment in a personal capacity when contacted,
“The tweet by the Co-Chair of the Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, Kiran Benipal, concerning Jewish people was wholly inappropriate and should not have been made. Kiran has been given guidance on this matter and I am very glad that she has retracted the tweet and provided an unequivocal apology. If any students feel affected by this issue I would encourage them to get in touch with the Student Advice Service who will be able to assist them http://ousu.org/advice/student-advice-service/.”