Jewish groups: Leniency for UK alleged anti-Semitic university employee unacceptable

Jewish groups condemned response to member of staff who made use of an anti-Semitic image on Facebook.

By JONNY PAUL, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN LONDON
February 24, 2009 20:55
2 minute read.
Jewish groups: Leniency for UK alleged anti-Semitic university employee unacceptable

university of york 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Jewish groups condemned what they felt was a British university's lenient response this week to a member of staff who made use of an anti-Semitic image on the social networking site Facebook. Andrew Collingwood, a supply manager in the Biology department at the University of York in northern England, posted a caricature of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni wearing a witch's hat and holding a wand with the Star of David, declaring, "Anti-Semitic! Anti-Semitic! Anti-Semitic!" A thought bubble reads, "They no longer hear the magic word." Collingwood is also a university council member and a harassment adviser to students, as well as an active member of the fringe group Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The university has defended the action, saying the school "adheres strongly to the principle of freedom of speech" and that it responds only in cases in which the rights of individuals or groups are violated. "We adhere strongly to the principle of freedom of speech and support healthy debate. We also encourage members of the university to undertake such debate in a spirit of mutual respect. It is important that people feel able to express their views, and it is important that individuals and groups feel free from misrepresentation and harassment. In this specific case, we are mindful of the sensitivities and will respond to the concerns of individuals or groups if they believe their rights or university regulations and codes of practice are being infringed," a university spokesman said. However, the university said it was not defending Collingwood and that it had asked him to remove the picture. "We are not here to defend Andrew Collingwood's position and have not done so. We do not see that as our role. It did seem to us that some people would find the picture offensive. As soon as we pointed this out to him, he took the picture off the Web site," the spokesman said. Criticizing the university's response, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said the school "should be responding much more strongly than it is, and we would urge it to conduct a full investigation and to take appropriate action." The UJS added that "for someone whose role is to help students with harassment, to endorse that picture is deplorable." The university's Jewish Society has called on the university to reevaluate Collingwood's position. "Jewish students couldn't approach him if they were being harassed. How can you consult someone who doesn't acknowledge that this is anti-Semitic?" Jewish Society president Simon Winkler said. Winkler said the depiction was "fundamentally racist and definitely perpetrating race hate." "It's unacceptable, and I'm surprised the university employs someone like that. I don't know how he can promote equality, when he himself does not believe in it. How can he preach at university about how to create equal opportunities, yet his private life holds up placards depicting racist stereotypes?" Winkler continued. The university's student union also condemned the use of what it called "a clearly objectionable cartoon." "The Students' Union recognizes and respects the tenets of free speech, but believes that it is entirely inappropriate for a staff member in a position of responsibility to publish images that may intimidate their students or harm their departmental relationship," it said. "Staff must also be mindful of what they publish for other members of this multi-cultural campus to see, especially considering their elevated position within the community," the union statement added.

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