The resignation of former Oxford University Labour Club Co-Chair, Alex Chalmers, has now reached most major news outlets in the UK and Israel, with repercussions ranging from condemnation from the Israeli Embassy in London, to the cancellation of Ed Miliband’s visit to OULC later this term.
The resignation was followed by fresh accusations of antisemitism within the Labour Club which were reported to the Oxford Jewish Society and subsequently outlined in a Facebook post late on Tuesday evening. They included the singing of a song called “Rockets over Tel Aviv” by committee members, a member organising a group to harass a Jewish student by shouting “filthy Zionist” whenever they saw her, and a statement from a committee member that “all Jews should be expected to publicly denounce Zionism and the state of Israel, and that we should not associate with any Jew who fails to do so”.
Chalmers was prompted to resign after the prominent Labour Club voted in favour of a motion to endorse Israel Apartheid Week on Monday. In his statement on Facebook announcing his resignation, Chalmers spoke out against alleged anti-semitism within OULC, saying: “Whether it be members of the Executive throwing around the term ‘Zio’ […], senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explitictly [sic] defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former Co-Chair claiming that ‘most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf’, a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”
He concluded that he had failed in his attempts to move the club away from “some of its more intolerant tendencies”, and outlined how “factional splits” had developed, with the views of some members towards “certain disadvantaged groups” becoming “poisonous”.
On their website, the organisers of Israel Apartheid Week state their aim “to raise awareness about Israel’s ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people.” They aim to raise awareness for the Palestinian led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Within a day of his resignation, Chalmers’ decision had been propelled beyond the headlines of the Oxford press to the national press, with the Daily Mail running: “Oxford University Labour chairman Alex Chalmers QUITS ‘over anti-Semitism’”. Later on Wednesday, the Guardian also wrote in response to the allegations of antisemitism brought up by the Oxford Jewish Society, with the lead: “Labour opens inquiry into antisemitism allegations at Oxford student club”.
The Embassy of Israel issued a press release to say how they are “appalled by reports of antisemitism, intimidation of Jewish students, and support for terrorism against Israel at the Oxford Labour Club.” The statement went on: “We would not expect such disgraceful activity from any morally upright person – let alone students at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Antisemitism masquerading as politics is abhorrent. It must be recognised as such and condemned by all.”
In response to the overwhelming condemnation of alleged anti-semitism within the Club from the media, public, and university spheres, the executive committee of OULC collectively prepared an official statement: “We are horrified at and whole-heartedly condemn anti-Semitic behaviour in all its forms. The comments detailed in JSoc’s statement last night indicate a shocking pattern of hateful and racist behaviour by some Club members, and it’s of the highest priority that this be dealt with swiftly and lastingly. Labour Students is launching an investigation; we will fully co-operate with this and encourage any of our members to come forward with any information that will assist the process.” An email to OULC members explained the manner in which the investigation would begin, clarifying: “Because there have been no official complaints made to us or the party so far, this investigation is an attempt to work out precisely what has happened and what should be done about it.”
The email also forwarded a message from Michael Rubin who is the National Chair of Labour Students, the student organisation affiliated with the Labour Party. Mr Rubin said: “The severity of the allegations requires a comprehensive, but swift review, so we are therefore aiming to publish the findings of our investigation on Tuesday 23rd February.”
Just as the ensuing media frenzy seemed to be diffusing slightly, Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader in the run up to the 2015 General election, cancelled his plans to speak to OULC members on the 4th March. A spokesperson for Mr Miliband said to New Statesman: “Ed is deeply disturbed to hear of reports of anti-semitism in the Oxford University Labour Club. It is right that the executive of the club has roundly condemned the comments and fully co-operates with the Labour Students investigation. Ed and the Labour Club have agreed that his talk should be postponed until the investigation is resolved.”
But the high-profile entries into the discussion did not end with Mr Miliband. Later on Wednesday afternoon it transpired that Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, wrote to Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor calling for more investigation into claims of anti-semitism on campus. This follows a tweet made by the Minister earlier in the day, which succinctly summarised his stance: “Concerned by reports of vile anti-semitism on campus – Oxford Uni needs to undertake urgent investigation.”
Mr Johnson wrote in his letter: “There can be no justification for attacks on Jewish students, and no tolerance for institutionalised racism within an organisation that bears a University’s name. […] Jewish students at Oxford and all universities must feel confident that university leaders take their safety seriously.”