The Jewish Chronicle

Antisemiti­sm body to lose ‘Pears’ name


VMYSTERY SURROUNDS a decision taken by the Pears Foundation charitable trust to remove its name from the Institute for the Study of Antisemiti­sm, which it establishe­d at the University of London’s Birkbeck College in 2010.

Inquiries to the charity about its decision were met with referrals to the news announceme­nt on its website, first posted on 23 March.

It says: “The Foundation’s vision was to see the creation of an independen­t academic institutio­n. This has been achieved.

“The Institute has gained an internatio­nal reputation for its innovative approach to the research and teaching of antisemiti­sm.”

Now, however, the Foundation says that “as the Institute increasing­ly tackles challengin­g and divisive issues in the public sphere, the Foundation’s trustees have decided that continuing to be so closely associated with the Institute is no longer in the Foundation’s best interests”.

No one from the trust was prepared to explain what that meant.

Instead, its statement says that from 4 May this year the Institute will be renamed the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemiti­sm, and that “the Foundation will continue to support its work as one of several funders”.

In fact, a spokesman for the Foundation said, its financial support would continue at the same level. The same spokesman completely rejected the suggestion that the decision to remove its name had been made in the light of the action by the Institute’s director, Professor David Feldman, to sign the controvers­ial Jerusalem Declaratio­n on Antisemiti­sm, (JDA) which was released last week.

“Our announceme­nt preceded the JDA petition”, the spokesman said. The JDA has been launched as an alternativ­e to the IHRA (Internatio­nal Holocaust Remembranc­e Alliance) working definition on antisemiti­sm.

One of the harshest critics of the Pears Institute’s approach to the issue of antisemiti­sm is Dr David Hirsh o f

Goldsmiths, University of London. Author of a book on contempora­ry antisemiti­sm, Dr Hirsh said: “The institute that Pears set up and pumped money into is highly problemati­c. Either they are now saying, no, it’s not problemati­c, or they are saying that they haven’t noticed it is problemati­c”. He pointed to increasing levels of antisemiti­sm around the world, often in academia, and frequently in a form relating to hostility to Israel. “We needed an academic centre able to study that kind of antisemiti­sm. What we got, however, was a forum for engagement between that antisemiti­sm, and those of us who were studying it.”

He believed that the framework of the Institute was “flawed from the beginning… imagine an institute for the study of women’s rights which spends its time debating whether a woman’s place is in the kitchen”.

Dr Hirsh was particular­ly critical of one of the Institute’s events in 2012 when writer Karl Sabbagh, who had written the foreword to Gilad Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who?, widely held to be antisemiti­c, spoke from the platform. Professor

Feldman’s openly expressed principle for the centre was that people from all sides should be able to participat­e.

Dr Hirsh told the JC that only after Sabbagh had spoken, and Professor Alan Johnson of Bicom had detailed Sabbagh’s record, and how it was consistent with his presentati­on, did Professor Feldman move to express his regret.

Dr Hirsh said that with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and ensuing rise of antisemiti­sm in the Labour Party, the Pears Institute should have been “facilitati­ng research into antisemiti­sm of that sort in order to understand it and to inform public debate on it, perhaps supporting a journal to publish that research.

“But the institute could not shine that kind of light on antisemiti­sm because it was committed to a model of academic pluralism, which required the defenders of antisemiti­sm to have an equal say in where the light was shone.” Professor Feldman did not make himself available to provide a comment.

A Birkbeck spokesman said that Pears had committed £800,000 from 2020 to 2023 to the institute.

New funders, besides Birkbeck itself, include the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Bonnart Trust, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the Leverhulme Trust.

Dummy copy to fit the word antisemiti­sm in a small pullquote’

Pears has committed £800,000 from 2020 to 2023 to the institute’

 ?? Sir Trevor Pears and Professor David Feldman ??
Sir Trevor Pears and Professor David Feldman

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