Die 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," hulle het gesê.
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, byvoeging: “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.”