Jewish students have expressed disgust at an event to be held at the School of Oriental and African Studies promoted by the publisher of an “antisemitic” booklet.
The talk on 7 March, entitled “Student Workshop: Advocacy for Palestine on Campus,” will be hosted by the university’s pro-Palestine society.
The student society’s event has been promoted on social media by the non-profit EuroPal Forum, which has its logo on the event poster.
The pro-Israel campaigner David Collier uncovered a pamphlet published by the EuroPal Forum last year, written by the academic Dr Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, the general manager of the Lebanon-based al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, referring to the “vast majority of Jews today” as the descendants of the Khazar people.
The widely-ridiculed Khazar theory that Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of the nomadic Khazar people in central Asia who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages is an argument deployed against Zionism.
The pamphlet, from March 2019, seen by Jewish News, claims “more than 80 percent of contemporary Jews are in no way related to Palestine, nor are they descendants of the children of Israel.”
The SOAS event will feature a session on the “new antisemitism and how it has affected Palestine advocacy at large, and what it means for pro-Palestine advocacy moving forwards,” according to its Facebook listing.
When approached for comment, the SOAS Palestine Society said in a statement on Friday it is to be hosting a workshop “which we have solely organised, and which only our society will be hosting.” It added: “Numerous organisations have helped us in publicising and advertising the event, to reach as many student activists for Palestine as possible, such as Europal. Europal are only assisting in the publicising of the event, and that is where their involvement starts and ends.
“We organised this workshop to assist other student activists all over London, with sessions on Requirements for successful advocacy, Knowing your rights, BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], and the IHRA’s [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism] recent attack on free speech – which will be delivered by individuals from the Jewish community whom possess both extensive experience and knowledge on this very important subject.”
A statement from the EuroPal Forum on Friday said the workshop was “organised by SOAS Palestine Society with support from EuroPal Forum along with other groups.”
The workshop is to be “delivered by trainers from the Jewish community with extensive experience in discussing the themes at hand,” the statement said.
It went on: “In regard to the claims levelled against EuroPal with reference to the pamphlet published in 2019, we view the issue as a historical debate that has a number of differing opinions within academia.
“The content of the pamphlet is authored by Dr. Mohsen Saleh and his view on the ‘Khazar’ issue, for example, has been supported by a number of Israeli historians, academics, and geneticists such as Shlomo Sand, Paul Wexler, and Eran Elhaik.
“This means for us that this issue is one of contention under discussion by a series of different historians, academics, and scientists, and in no way to do we embrace any dimensions carried by the text that fall outside of this academic debate. ”
The Union of Jewish Students said it would call for the event to be cancelled, describing the EuroPal Forum on Thursday as “an organisation which peddles the neo-Nazi myth that Jews are ‘Khazars’.”
Hannah Rose, the former president of the Jewish student union, described the pamphlet as “antisemitic”.
A spokesperson for SOAS said the university has a “clear and explicit zero-tolerance policy in relation to antisemitism and all forms of racism.”
The university is to investigate whether any codes of practice have been breached by the booking.
“Views expressed by individuals or groups at events do not represent a SOAS view or a SOAS endorsement of views expressed,” the spokesperson said.
“We note that this specific group [the EuroPal Forum] has held events in many locations, including one scheduled for Parliament on 11 March,” he added in a reference to an event to be hosted at Portcullis House on President Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
“SOAS has a strong academic track record in research and teaching which relates to Israel Studies and Jewish Culture, including the UK’s first Professor of Israel Studies, an active Centre for Jewish Studies and a range of degree programmes including Hebrew with Arabic,” he added. “We will continue to promote open and robust discussion on campus.”
Dr Mohsen Mohammad Saleh is yet to respond to a request for comment.