Cherwell

OULC speaker invite sparks anti-semitism concerns

Oxford University Labour Club (OULC) has invited a controversial journalist, who has denied the existence of an anti-semitism problem within the Labour party, to headline an upcoming event.

Richard Seymour has also expressed repeated support for the anti-semitic terrorist group Hezbollah.

The revelation comes only a month after the club released a statement condemning anti-semitism within Labour, and calling on leader Jeremy Corbyn to apologise for the party’s “consistently inadequate response to internal anti-semitism”.

The OULC co-chairs have told Cherwell that they were not aware of Seymour’s “more controversial views”, and have contacted him to “clarify his positions in the hopes [sic] that these have evolved over time”.

Seymour is a Marxist writer and activist, who blogs from the page Lenin’s Tomb. Jeremy Corbyn was heavily criticised for speaking alongside him at a Momentum event in 2016.

In the same year, Seymour wrote a blog post concerning anti-semitism allegations within the Labour Party entitled ‘Yes, it is a witch hunt’. The post begins: “By now, I think, it is being quietly acknowledged in most sensible quarters that Labour doesn’t have an ‘antisemitism problem’.”

Seymour has also written: “Antisemitism is more than the arrangement of words: in its classical phase it was a structure of oppression promulgated through law and perpetuated through various social arrangements. There is nothing like this today: there is, however, a racist, expansionist state that purports to speak for the Jews.”

On the same blog, Seymour has expressed “unconditional, but not uncritical, support” for Hezbollah, a proscribed terrorist group who strive for the elimination of the state of Israel

In addition, he faced widespread criticism when he commented on a video of an Israeli journalist: “He makes me sick. He’s a piece of shit. He’s standing there complaining that the army isn’t helping the colonists keep the Palestinians in their place. Fuck him, they should cut his throat.”.

He also provoked widespread condemnation after he posted hate speech against Falklands’ veteran and burns victim, Simon Weston.

In a comment, Seymour wrote: “If he knew anything he’d still have his face”. He later issued a lengthy apology on his blog.

OULC co-chairs, Anisha Faruk and Ray Williams, told Cherwell: “Having spoken with Oxford JSoc, we all agree that in the past Seymour has made comments which are unacceptable and we have asked him to clarify his positions in the hopes [sic] that these have evolved over time and to make sure that our event will not be used to air any offensive and discriminatory viewpoints.

“If our concerns are not assuaged, we will not hesitate to rescind the invitation. However at the event, which will be open to all, he will be firmly and constructively challenged by the Chair on previous comments made.”

They also told Cherwell: “We were not aware of his more controversial views – we knew him simply as the author of ‘Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics’, a well regarded book about the political conditions that lead [sic] to the 2015 Labour leadership election result.”

President of Oxford University Jewish Society (JSoc), Jacob Greenhouse, told Cherwell: “We are heartened by OULC’s response and commitment to cooperation with us. In particular, we are looking for a denunciation of some of Seymour’s past comments, including reference to the antisemitism scandal being a ‘witch-hunt,’ and his allusion to an ‘Israel
Lobby.’”

The termcard also includes an event featuring Rupa Huq MP. Huq attracted controversy in 2017 after publicly defending suspended Labour MP Naz Shah on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Shah had come under fire after a social media posts, including one that suggested Israel should be moved to the United States.

Huq defended Shah’s actions and a “silly mistake” and compared them to a post she had shared of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on a zipwire next to Barack Obama. Huq also insisted: “Naz Shah did not write any anti-semitic tracts. She just clicked share.” She later apologised for her comments.

OULC has faced scrutiny for their own internal problems with anti-semitism in the past. In 2016, co-chair Alex Chalmers resigned in protest at what he perceived to be a large portion of club members having “some kind of problem with Jews”.

After a year-long investigation, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party voted to clear the two student members under investigation for alleged anti-Semitic behaviour – a decision Oxford JSoc labelled “utterly shameful”.

Richard Seymour was contacted for comment.