Bristol University Student Union has secured a “heartfelt apology” from its incoming ethnic minority officer after he told a Jewish student that he should “be like Israel and cease to exist”.
Omar Chowdhury also told second year physics student Izzy Posen that his comments were like “Israeli settlements: always popping up where they’re not wanted.”
Chowdhury made his comments on the university’s student “confessions” Facebook page, called Bristruths, which is publicly accessible. Students can post anonymously and then other students comment publicly underneath. The comments have since been deleted.
After Mr Posen complained, Bristol Student Union launched an independent inquiry which concluded that Chowdhury’s comments were antisemitic.
In a statement, the union, which said it took allegations of antisemitism extremely seriously, said: “Omar’s comments were found to be antisemitic, and in addition to receiving an official warning about his future conduct, a series of recommendations have been made for Omar”.
The union said it was devising a “development plan” for Chowdhury, who remains due to take up his position as ethnic minority officer in June. It wanted to ensure, it said, “that he fully abides by the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It is imperative that our elected representatives understand antisemitism in all its forms and engage with Jewish students to better understand the unique challenges they face. The SU will closely monitor this process”.
Chowdhury, said the union, was “genuinely remorseful and deeply regrets his words and their impact”.
He issued a statement “wholeheartedly” apologising to Izzy Posen. He extended his apology to “Jewish students at the university, and the wider Jewish community for these ignorant and offensive comments”.
He acknowledged that his remarks were “antisemitic and unacceptable. I regret my words and I am disappointed in myself for contributing to the hostile environment that is faced by Jewish people at university and in society”.
Chowdhury said that Jewish students had good reason to be concerned about his ability to work as Bristol’s ethnic minority officer. He said: “I take responsibility for my words and actions, and now it is my job to show that I can and will work with Jewish students to represent them at this university and regain their confidence before I begin my role in June.
“Over the last two weeks, I have already begun efforts to educate myself on antisemitism and I have learned a lot just in this small timeframe. I want to continue to grow my understanding of antisemitism and the different forms it takes and will undertake antisemitism training as part of this. I will do everything I can to show that these comments do not represent my character and commit to creating a more welcoming environment for minorities in the work I do next year, starting with myself.”
Bristol Jsoc said in a statement posted on Facebook they “recognise that there are a variety of views surrounding the controversial decision in response to the antisemitic breach of conduct by BME Officer elect Omar Chowdhury, all of which are valid.
“Although Chowdhury’s apology appears genuine and we look forward to seeing the actions that he takes to combat antisemitism, Jewish students may still rightly be concerned.”