Dr. Maaruf Ali of the computer science department published a series of questionable posts on Facebook, among them one purportedly questioning the veracity of the Holocaust. Another post stated “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our university!”The lecturer was suspended on Friday. He was also suspended by the St. John Ambulance charity, where he served as a volunteer.
Although the motion to create a Jewish society on campus initially passed, there were over 200 votes against it and it's creation was blocked when university administrators questioned “an irregularity” that permitted numerous ineligible voters to participate. The Student Union initially stated “as soon as this was brought to our attention we investigated and as a result have declared the current vote null and void, due to us no longer being able to ensure the vote has been free and fair." After the public outcry, the Student Union announced Friday they had ratified the immediate creation of the Essex Jewish Society.
The incident led well-known English personalities to weigh in including television presenter Rachel Riley who posted on Twitter, "the cancer that is antisemitism is spreading. Shocking discrimination." Comedian David Baddiel also took to Twitter to note that unlike the Jewish society, numerous student groups that faced zero opposition such as the newly establish "Pokemon Go" society and the "Colchester United" society.
John Bercow, House of Commons speaker and the university's chancellor and vice-chancellor Prof. Anthony Forster voiced their support for Jewish students.
The cancer that is antisemitism is spreading. Shocking discrimination. https://t.co/nThFmb0VlZ— Rachel Riley (@RachelRileyRR) February 21, 2019
Regarding the now suspended Ali, Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust stated, "it is deeply disturbing that someone who posts such blatantly antisemitic material, including Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about a ‘Zionist mafia’ controlling the media, should be teaching students at university."Rich told The Guardian, "the fact that Maaruf Ali lobbied students to campaign against the creation of a Jewish society shows he does not keep these views to himself."Ali was also accused of sharing a Facebook post which claimed that one of the French police officers killed in the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks was “a Mossad agent live and well in Buenos Aires… a crypto-Jew in the service of Israeli intelligence."
The Union of Jewish Students, which represents Jewish college students throughout the UK reported that the local student chapter of Amnesty International was among the groups that lobbied against a Jewish organization on campus.
The UJS said that Amnesty Essex shared a text message calling for people to vote against the creation of a Jewish student group because their proposal to engage in Israeli culture activities and Zionism. According to the UJS, the text read, "the [Jewish] society has mentioned that it will celebrate Israeli national day which has nothing to do with Judaism. It is a day where 700,000 Palestinians were illegally expelled from their homes and ethnically cleaned from historic Palestine. Amnesty Essex is against this."
UJS statement in response to actions announced by the University of Essex Vice-Chancellor. pic.twitter.com/ZBHhL5HUeM— Union of Jewish Students (@UJS_UK) February 22, 2019
The UJS said in response, "Judaism is a religion, culture, civilization and yes, a nation. whilst there may be Jewish students who do not support the Israeli state, offering education on Israel in the broadest sense and opportunities to engage with the world's only Jewish state must be part of what is offered from a Jewish society. Israel has for 3,000 years played a central and vital part in Jewish history and identity."
The official proposal with the Essex Student Union read in part, "create a warm and welcoming atmosphere, hosting various religious, educational and cultural activities... religious weekly events: Friday night dinners in order to celebrate Shabbat together....bagel lunches, Israeli cultural events (national day), explore Israel engagement and Zionism, welcome some speakers, work on interfaith and engage with various groups on campus..."