What does it take to force a university to act contrary to the principles of free expression that are at the core of academic freedom? If the story of Dr. Maaruf Ali is representative, then the answer is: not much. In the 25-30 news stories I read in preparing this summary, each article repeated the characterization of Dr. Ali’s posts as anti Semitic and none offered any counter interpretation. It seems no institution offered support to Dr. Ali. Not a union, nor a political party nor the university itself.
Dr. Ali’s problems at The University of Essex began with a vote the student union held in February over whether to authorize a proposed new Jewish student society, a branch of the Union of Jewish Students. The UJS is frankly Zionist and political, offering on its website as its ‘core values:’ 1.) cross communalism defined as “open to all Jewish students regardless of political or religious affiliation or denomination. 2.)Peer-leadership 3.)Representation: “…Jewish students should have their voices heard both locally and nationally.” And, 4.) Engagement with Israel. “… to strengthen, celebrate and explore a personal relationship with Israel as part of an evolving expression of Jewish identity.”
The few students who bothered to vote on the issue voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new society. 200 students out of the 600 who voted (the University of Essex boasts over 15,000 students) voted against the society. None of the news outlets that covered this story mentioned that very few students cared to participate, exaggerating the importance of the issue at the University. Apparently panicked by this lopsided vote in its favor, the student union cancelled the vote and authorized the society’s immediate creation.
Histrionics prevailed in the Jewish press and among the UK’s Jewish advocates. Following the vote, the national Union of Jewish Students said the fact that so many people were against the ratification of the society was “simply shocking.” Apparently not constrained by facts, Amanda Bowman, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: “This is racism, pure and simple. Those students who voted to exclude Jewish students should hang their heads in shame.” Of course, 200 students voted against a society, there was no vote to exclude Jewish students.
Luckily for those seeking to extract revenge for the elusive sin of anti Semitism, they had an object for their wrath in University lecturer, Dr. Maaruf Ali. Ali opposed the society and shared a number of posts alleging that “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our University.” This quote was widely circulated as evidence of his anti Semitism although UJS is an openly Zionist organization.
In support of his opinion Ali posted that: “50,000 Jews protest[ed] Israel” in New York, but that there was a “total mainstream media blackout by the Zionist mafia.” There indeed was such a protest in New York, and it was only lightly covered in the media.
Ali wrote that Israel planned to expel 36,000 Palestinians from the Negev. In fact, Israel was expelling 36,000 Palestinian Bedouins from the Negev, and his point was correct.
Then Ali shared a claim from smoloko.com that a French police officer allegedly killed in terror attacks in Paris was actually a Mossad agent. I couldn’t verify this claim, but there are many such theories about the 2015 attacks See.
Dr. Ali also shared the following post from Edgar Steele, an Idaho lawyer who defended members of the Aryan nation.
Dave Rich, of the Community Security Trust, called for Ali’s immediate dismissal saying, “It is deeply disturbing that someone who posts such blatantly antisemitic material … should be teaching students at university.”
Ali said that his opposition was to Zionism and he denied being anti Semitic. “I am not against Jews, I don’t hate their religion their people or their culture.” There were no allegations that Ali actually shared his political opinions with his students in electronics or computer science.
The university announced that, “Following a tribunal hearing which considered all the evidence the member of staff has been dismissed,” a decision that means the University’s commitment, if any, to free speech does not extend to speech labeled ‘anti Semitic.’
UJS organizer Daniel Kosky called “this [a] positive step in creating an inclusive campus environment, and we hope to see the University of Essex continue this work into the future.” The decision strikes me as the opposite of inclusive, and illustrates that anti Zionists views are forbidden at the University.