Oxford University’s student Labour club, that was previously a platform for Ed Miliband and Michael Foot, has become embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.
The club’s chairman Alex Chalmers has resigned in protest after claiming that its members have “some kind of problem with Jews” and sympathise with terrorist groups like Hamas.
Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), where dozens of former Labour leaders, Cabinet Members and MPs have cut their political teeth, is one of the largest student Labour clubs in the UK.
Mr Chalmers, an undergraduate at Oriel College, said on Monday night that despite the Labour club’s “commitment to liberation”, it had a “poisonous” attitude toward certain groups.
In a resignation statement publicly posted on Facebook, Mr Chalmers explained that members of the OULC Executive had been “throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon”.
Senior members of the club had been “expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”, he added.
Chalmers said that ever since Labour’s defeat at the general election, he had become “increasingly worried about the state of OULC”.
He concluded that “a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews”.
Chalmers cited OULC’s decision on Monday to endorse Israel Apartheid Week as a reason for his resignation, a movement which he said had “a history of targetting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses”.
Labour Students, a national student organisation which is affiliated to the Labour Party, said they were “deeply troubled” to hear reports of anti-semitism at “one of our most prominent Labour Clubs”.
The organisation said in a statement: “We unequivocally condemn any form of anti-Semitism” adding that it takes the allegations “very seriously.”
“We will do whatever is necessary o ensure every Labour Club is a safe space for Jewish Students,” a spokesman said.
“We are proud of the long history we have of working with the Union of Jewish Students and the National Union of Students to protect Jewish students on campus and this will always be a top priority for Labour Students.”
It comes as the Government revealed proposals to ban local government, public bodies and student unions from boycotting Israel.
Matt Hancock, the Cabinet Office Minister, who will formally announce the change during a visit to Israel this week, has said council bans were “undermining our national security”.
Photo: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
Last month, police were called after King’s College London’s student Israel society was attacked by demonstrators.
Witnesses described a mob throwing chairs and smashing windows, while pictures show officers standing guard outside the building.
Oxford University said that it “does not tolerate any form of harassment or victimisation – including on the grounds of religion and belief.”
The University “expects all members of the University community, its visitors and contractors to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration,” the statement went on.
The University encouraged students who have experienced “harassment on the grounds of religion” to report incidents to university authorities.
Alex Chalmers – Resignation statement in full :
It is with the greatest regret that I have decided to resign as Co-Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club. This comes in the light of OULC’s decision at this evening’s general meeting to endorse Israel Apartheid Week.
I originally ran for the position of Co-Chair back in Trinity, after our crushing defeat at the general election, because I was increasingly worried about the state of OULC. The club I had invested an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and emotion in during my first two terms at Oxford, which had given me a network of close friends, was becoming increasingly riven by factional splits, and despite its avowed committment to liberation, the attitudes of certain members of the club towards certain disadvantaged groups was becoming posionous.
Whether it be members of the Executive throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon, senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explitictly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former Co-Chair claiming that ‘most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf’, a large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews. The decision of the club to endorse a movement with a history of targetting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students, illustrates how uneven and insincere much of the active membership is when it comes to liberation.
I had hoped during my tenure as Co-Chair to move the club away from some of its more intolerant tendencies: sadly, it only continued to move away from me, to a place I could no longer hope to retrieve it from. I am now in a position where I can no longer in good conscience defend club policy, but I do not regret my time in OULC. I’m proud of the work I did, both as Secretary and Co-Chair, whether it be the hours spent campaigning or redrafting the club’s constitution, or putting together a term card with a range of high profile speakers. I have also had the honour of working with some great people, whether they be my fellow Co-Chair Noni Csogor, or former Co-Chairs such as David Klemperer, Kate Welsh, Helena Dollimore, or David Cesar Heymann, and members of the Executive past and present such as Ella Taylor and Ben Scantlebury. I wish Noni the very best for the rest of term and I fully respect her decision to continue, even if it is not one I can take myself.