Five hundred and fifty academics and prominent intellectuals from round the world have called out the University of Glasgow for making a public apology for an article published in its eSharp journal four years ago. The author was not informed that this apology was being made. The article is critical of lobbying and information techniques used by Israel and its supporters.

Four years after the article was published, and after a  complaint by a pro-Israel activist and other attacks, a preface was added this summer to the article, accusing it of promoting ‘an antisemitic theory’; and the university issued a statement on their action saying they are against  ‘hate speech’. The University went on to justify their statement by reference to the much-criticised IHRA definition of antisemitism (which links criticism of Israel to antisemitism).

The signatories insist that criticism of Israel and its supporters cannot be conflated with antisemitism. The serious consequence of that for academic research, they say, would be that

“other groups, states and corporations can all be the subject of critical academic analysis, but commentary on pro-Israel advocacy must be limited.”

The academics also object to the overturning of the peer review process which had approved the article in 2017. They are especially concerned about the impact on future scholarship, since this university journal is aimed at early career researchers. It is potentially extremely damaging to have research labelled in this way; the university’s action, if not retracted, will act as a deterrent to researchers entering this field.

The criticism by academics is shared by prominent public figures who have added their names to the petition including Ronnie Kasrils the veteran anti-apartheid statesman from South Africa, the film maker Ken Loach, musician Brian Eno, the author Ahdaf Soeuif, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and international legal experts including John Dugard and Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC.

Issues of academic freedom and free speech on campus have recently attracted national coverage with several high-profile cases. But it is unusual for a case to attract so much international attention from academics across such a wide range of disciplines. The signatories range from Malcolm Levitt in physical chemistry and the mathematician David Epstein, both fellows of the Royal Society, to the acclaimed historian Sheila Rowbotham.

They include two former presidents of the British Sociological Association, John Brewer and also John Eldridge, whose work has been listed as one of the top 100 achievements of Glasgow University. The current president of the International Sociological Association , Sari Hanafi has also signed, along with Gerardo Otero, president of the Latin American Studies Association. There are 20 signatories from major Universities in Israel as well as Palestinian scholars including Salman Abu Sitta, President of the Palestine Land Society. Professor Hagit Borer has signed on behalf of Israel Academics UK along with Jacqueline Rose of Independent Jewish Voices.

The signatories state that they stand absolutely against antisemitism and all forms of discrimination. But they believe that the making of false claims is entirely counterproductive since it spreads confusion and weakens the struggle against actual racism.

They are calling on the University to withdraw both its apology and its comments linking the article to hate speech, and to assert its commitment to the right to critical commentary in scholarship.

Signatory George P Smith, Nobel laureate in Chemistry, has commented as follows:

“I ask my fellow academics: Is campaigning to discredit scholarship we strongly disagree with as ‘hate speech’ an honorable or effective way to rebut it?”

And Noam Chomsky says:

“The capitulation by the University of Glasgow is a serious blow to academic freedom that should not be allowed to stand.”

You can see the petition and signatories here.