Oxford University college refuses to cancel event tonight with Ken Loach

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Oxford University college refuses to cancel event tonight with Ken Loach

Controversial director who claims Holocaust denial should be open for discussion will appear tonight despite protests from Jewish community leaders

Film director Ken Loach 

Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Film director Ken Loach Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

An Oxford University college has refused to cancel an event tonight featuring controversial director Ken Loach, despite calls for it to be pulled Jewish community leaders.

The filmmaker and activist is due to speak in conversation with Professor Judith Buchanan, Master of St Peter’s College.

Loach provoked outrage by downplaying and denying claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

He urged Bafta to reconsider nominating the Panorama episode featuring Labour Party whistle-blowers for an award and caused anger in 2017 at a fringe event of the Labour Party conference with comments about Holocaust denial, saying: “I think history is for us all to discuss, wouldn’t you?”

Writing to Prof. Buchanan, president of the Board of Deputies Marie van der Zyl, said: “It has come to our urgent attention from the Jewish Society, that you intend to give Ken Loach a platform We urge you not to give him any such platform and there is a clear public history of antisemitism denial and great offence given to the Jewish community. We are astonished that such an institution as Oxford University would give such an individual such a platform. This is entirely unacceptable. We require your immediate confirmation this event will not be proceeding.

Screenshot from the event page

In a statement, the Union of Jewish Students said: “St Peter’s College, University of Oxford, should not be platforming a person who has repeatedly been accused of and has been an apologist for antisemitism. Just last summer, the University of Oxford stated they were committed to addressing systemic racism wherever it may be found, including within their own community. We do not see how this event can be reconciled with that statement.

“It is an outrage that St Peter’s College has ignored the concerns of its Jewish students and we urge Judith Buchanan, Master of St Peter’s College, to remove this speaker from the event. UJS are offering support to the Jewish Society.”

Oxford University Jewish Society’s president, Samuel Benjamin, and vice president, James Onona, issued a statement saying the Jsoc is “deeply disappointed” by the decision to host Loach. “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 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.”

Responding to Jewish News, professor Buchanan said: “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 antisemitism.

“It recognises the appalling atrocities that antisemitism 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 event is due to take place on YouTube this evening between 6-7pm.

Ken Loach has been approached for comment.

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