St Peter’s persisting with Loach event despite worries over antisemitism

Image description: St Peter’s College viewed from New Inn Hall Street

[CW: Antisemitism]


There are growing concerns at St Peter’s college over the upcoming ‘Ken Loach in Conversation’ event. Jewish students have noted that previous statements by Loach have been antisemitic according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition, which the University recently adopted.

A member of the JCR committee wrote that “the JCR Committee stand with the Jewish students at this college who have been affected by the organising of this event and believe that it’s important that everyone has a full understanding of the context of the event before attending”.

The event, set to take place on Monday 8th February at 6pm, will see St Peter’s alumnus Loach in conversation with the Master of St Peter’s college, Professor Judith Buchanan. It is in association with TORCH, the Oxford research centre for the humanities. The event describes Loach as “a distinguished and multi-award-winning British filmmaker, [and] social campaigner”. However, numerous statements by Loach have been antisemitic according to the IHRA’s definition. Cited examples include Loach’s comment in a discussion about accepting the history of the holocaust that: “I think history is for all of us to discuss. The founding of the state of Israel, for example, based on ethnic cleansing, is there for us all to discuss, so don’t try and subvert that by false stories of antisemitism”.

In a message to the JCR, a member of the committee wrote that “Ken Loach is a political artist with anti-Semitic viewpoints, and his association with holocaust denial is particularly harmful and inexcusable”. They believe that the college has “ultimately dealt with this issue in a frankly insensitive manner” and that it is important for members of the JCR to be made aware of Loach’s previous comments “especially if you consider yourself as an ally to the Jewish community or someone who is trying to actively engage with anti-racist action.”

The message to the JCR continued “It is felt that such politics should not be platformed at our college if minorities are to feel included and valued”. A document circulated to students by the JCR committee alleges that the college authorities are “basically suggesting a selective approach regarding which of his politics are relevant, allowing for a silencing of his anti-Semitism”: “This is putting the burden on us, the Jewish students, to not feel discriminated against”. Questions are being raised as to why the continue to persist in holding the event despite knowing of the concerns of the JCR. 

In the minutes of a meeting held to address concerns, Buchanan is noted as having said that the hurt caused was unintentional, and that she wanted to help alleviate harm and concerns, but stopped short of cancelling the event. 

In an email sent to St Peter’s students by Professor Buchanan this afternoon, she wrote that the Master and the Equality and Diversity Lead were grateful to students for taking the time to have conversations with them about their concerns. The email continued:

“As part of these conversations, a useful suggestion has been made that we might create a subsequent event in College at some point fairly soon that might address directly some of the specific issues that have been raised by this. We are very much in support of creating a broader context for these ongoing conversations. Our Equality and Diversity Lead is pleased to be part of that planning conversation to help take this forward in creative ways and for this matter to be part of the ongoing conversation both within our E&D Forum and our broader community.”

When approached for comment by the Oxford Student, a spokesperson for St Peter’s College said:

“Ken Loach, an alumnus of St Peter’s College, has been invited by the College and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities to speak about two of his films. These films form part of a distinguished filmmaking career. This is the latest in a run of occasions on which Ken Loach has been invited to speak in College, all of which have previously been very well received by students. The event will be respected as advertised and we look forward to a good conversation about the films on this occasion.

“Significant concerns about the event have been brought clearly to the attention of College and College is committed to creating further opportunities for these concerns to be properly respected and discussed within College.  St Peter’s stands vigorously against all forms of discrimination and always seeks to support students who are discriminated against. In the context of the current conversation, College affirms without reservation its very strong opposition to anti-semitism. It recognises the appalling atrocities that anti-semitism has wrought and can bring.  While not believing that no-platforming is the way to pursue goals of a free and open academic community, it is committed to supporting students who find such decisions painful and to finding ways to address these questions within College as part of a broader, ongoing conversation.”

The President and Vice-President of JSoc wrote in a statement that:

“Oxford University Jewish Society is deeply disappointed by the decision of Professor Judith Buchanan, Master of St Peter’s College, to host an event with filmmaker Ken Loach. On numerous occasions, Loach has made remarks that are antisemitic under the IHRA definition, which was recently adopted by the University of Oxford.”

“Over the weekend, Jewish students at St Peter’s met with Professor Buchanan to express their upset and dismay at the event’s happening. In spite of this, Ken Loach is still due to speak this evening, a decision which we condemn.”

“The Jewish Society will always do its utmost to protect the welfare of Jewish Students in Oxford. It is concerning that on this occasion, the leadership at St Peter’s College has not shared this sentiment.”

The Oxford Student stands against all antisemitism.

Image credit: Anon1652734 via Wikipedia Commons