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Palestinian academic suspended by UK university using controversial definition of anti-Semitism

January 27, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Protest against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in London, UK on 4 September 2018 [DANIEL LEAL/AFP/Getty Images]

The highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which critics say has fuelled a witch-hunt against academics critical of Israel, has claimed another victim.

Palestinian lecturer, Shahd Abusalama, was suspended from teaching by Sheffield Hallam University over an anti-Israel social media post. In the meantime, an investigation has been opened by the university after it received a complaint against Abusalama. She won’t be allowed to teach until the investigation is concluded.

The university authorities did not specify the group or individual who filed the complaint that led to her suspension, but Abusalama, who is from Gaza, has been vocal about the campaign led by pro-Israel groups to have her expelled.

“Family, friends, and followers, I am under renewed attack by Zionist publications protesting my recent appointment as an Associate Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, where I also recently submitted a PhD dissertation on the historical representation of Palestinian refugees in colonial, humanitarian and Palestinian documentary films, from 1917 and 1993,” Abusalama tweeted shedding light on the campaign against her.

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“The Zionist defamation campaign by Jewish News, Campaign Against Antisemitism and Jewish Chronicle joins a historical pattern where the Zionist colonial narrative is consistently privileged over the narratives of the oppressed.”

She added: “I’m shocked that my academic community seems more interested in protecting its reputation than my academic freedom & wellbeing.”

The social media post which triggered Abusalama’s suspensions shows the Palestinian academic defending a first-year student who had made a poster that said “Stop the Palestinian Holocaust.” The post was claimed to have been anti-Semitic.

Abusalama defended the student by citing Jewish individuals who have made the same analogy, and wrote: “I understand why a first-year university student used #Holocaust when thinking of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Gaza,” adding: “Maybe she thought she’d garner European sympathy for Palestine by evoking ‘Never Again’ slogan.”

A Sheffield Hallam spokesperson is reported in the Times of Israel defending the decision to suspend Abusalama saying that the university “has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism” and that it was “committed to ensuring an inclusive culture for all of our students and staff.”

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Seven of the 11 examples cited in the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism conflate criticism of Israel with racism towards Jews. One such examples is “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

Critics, including the original drafter of the definition, have persistently warned that the IHRA would have a chilling effect on free speech; that it was weaponised and would lead to a witch hunt against academics critical of the occupation state.

Last year Professor David Miller was controversially fired from his job at Bristol University following a hostile campaign by pro-Israel “proud” Zionist groups who accused the 57-year-old of anti-Semitism. Although two separate investigations exonerated Miller, his expulsion was not rescinded.

Campaigners have warned that Miller’s sacking was just the first. They argued that if mere accusation without evidence was enough to have academics expelled from their posts, pro-Israel groups would become emboldened in defaming people over their criticism of Israel.