Jews and Mus­lims forge a bond in the Ox­ford mêlée

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY BERNARD JOSEPHS AND LEON SY­MONS OX­FORD

JEWISH AND Mus­lim stu­dent lead­ers at Ox­ford Univer­sity have ex­pressed hopes that their co-op­er­a­tion in try­ing to stop the David Irv­ing-Nick Grif­fin de­bate on free speech on Mon­day night will her­ald a new re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two groups.

Their mem­bers were among up to 2,000 ban­ner-wav­ing, chant­ing demon­stra­tors who be­sieged the Ox­ford Union build­ings for four hours in the cen­tre of the univer­sity city. A sit-down protest blocked the nar­row en­try gate to the Union and stopped many of the sell-out au­di­ence from get­ting in.

The Union of Jewish Stu­dents and Ox­ford Univer­sity’s Is­lamic So­ci­ety car­ried a huge ban­ner marked with the sym­bols of both or­gan­i­sa­tions. Some Mus­lim demon­stra­tors car­ried posters pro­claim­ing “Hands off our Jews”, while the Jewish So­ci­ety car­ried oth­ers say­ing “Hands off our Mus­lims”.

Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt, whom Irv­ing sued un­suc­cess­fully for li­bel that led to him be­ing la­belled a Holo­caust de­nier by the trial judge, said in a mes­sage read out dur­ing the demon­stra­tion: “Invit­ing th­ese two men [to the Ox­ford Union] smacks of a stunt which gives them what they most need to sur­vive: pub­lic­ity.

“Some of those who have de­fended the Ox­ford Union have called for open minds. The prob­lem with peo­ple with open minds is that some­times their minds are so open their brains fall out — and that is the best that can be said of the or­gan­is­ers of this de­bate.”

Ten min­utes be­fore the sched­uled start, 30 demon­stra­tors scaled the perime­ter wall and in­vaded the hall, de­lay­ing the de­bate and spark­ing scuf­fles as the stu­dent au­di­ence tried to push them out.

The or­gan­is­ers were forced to split the event in two. Holo­caust de­nier Irv­ing joined Ox­ford West Lib-Dem MP Dr Evan Har­ris and au­thor and jour­nal­ist Ann Atkins in the de­bat­ing cham­ber while BNP leader Grif­fin was despatched to the OU li­brary with two stu­dent de­baters, South African James Dray and Jess Prince from Canada. The event got un­der way 75 min­utes late against a back­ground of shout­ing and chant­ing.

Jewish So­ci­ety pres­i­dent Steven Alt­mann-Richer said: “Iron­i­cally, the first event we held with the Is­lamic So­ci­ety was last term when some­one from the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Bri­tain talked to us about the dan­gers of the BNP. We get on well be­cause both so­ci­eties are non-po­lit­i­cal. When pol­i­tics comes in, it changes peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes.”

He added: “I am up­set that the event was hi­jacked by rent-a-yob and that peo­ple got into the hall. But when you get a crowd of that size, there will al­ways be peo­ple look­ing for trou­ble.”

Sazan Meran, co-pres­i­dent of the univer­sity’s Is­lam So­ci­ety, said: “We have had good re­la­tions with Jewish stu­dents for some time and this demon­stra­tion has def­i­nitely brought us closer to­gether. I am sure that this ex­pe­ri­ence will re­sult in us co-oper- at­ing in the fight against racism. We may have dif­fer­ences over pol­i­tics but, at the end of the day, we have a lot in com­mon.”

Ox­ford Union pres­i­dent Luke Tryl ad­mit­ted he had been shocked by the level and fe­roc­ity of the protests but main­tained that he had been right to in­vite the pair. He said he in­tended to write a full re­port on the event, with con­tri­bu­tions from the so­ci­ety pres­i­dents, “so that the OU can learn lessons from this. I don’t want fu­ture pres­i­dents to think that this gives them li­cence to in­vite any­way they please”.

PHOTO: ALEXIS DARAS

Stu­dents of a wide range of po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions demon­strate out­side the Ox­ford Union on Mon­day night

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