A lecturer at one of the University of Sheffield’s most prestigious departments has come under fire for “engaging in denial” of anti-Semitism allegations within the Labour Party.
Piers Robinson, Chair of Politics, Society and Political Communication at the Department of Journalism Studies signed a petition that claimed allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour are “being used as a weapon to silence those who speak out against injustice”.
National organisation the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) called for the University to take “all actions necessary” against Mr Robinson, who is also the Co-Director at the Organisation for Propaganda Studies.
A UJS spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable that an academic who should be fostering intelligent education and safe environments for learning appears to be… engaging in denial of antisemitism.
“University staff should know better than to undermine the fight against antisemitism.”
Mr Robinson denied that he had undermined anti-Semitism claims in the Labour Party, adding he rather “believe[s] that the problem has been exaggerated for political purposes.”
Despite several requests from Forge Press, the University declined to comment.
Defending Chris Williamson MP
The petition, signed by nearly 6,000 people, calls for the suspension of Labour MP Chris Williamson to be lifted after he claimed the party was “too apologetic” over anti-Semitism claims.
Lorraine Murphy, the petition’s founder, wrote: “I abhor racism in all it’s [sic] forms but it has now gone far too far and merely the cry of [anti-Semitism] has itself has become a weapon of abuse, where is the justice?
“Why are the NEC and Labour Party now becoming part of the problem.”
But since the suspension, Professor Robinson has continued to share posts and articles that extend beyond Mr Williamson to attack the idea that Labour has an anti-Semitism problem.
“I’m ashamed to be a member of the same institution” – Richard dawidek, phd student
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn admitted last Summer that his party had a ‘real problem’ with anti-Semitism.
Nine MPs also left the party shortly before Mr Williamson’s comments in Sheffield, citing an institutional “culture of intolerance and extremism” within the party.
Discrediting claims on social media
One post shared by senior academic Robinson decried such claims as “a smear campaign” and another, an article by controversial website The Canary, reduced the allegations to a project of the “establishment”.
Professor Robinson is currently on leave from the University but has an active social media presence with his senior lectureship role still on public display.
Professor Robinson has previously been criticised in the national media for allegedly disseminating 9/11 conspiracy theories through his teaching on propaganda at the University.
Richard Dawidek, a PhD student at Sheffield University, said he was “ashamed” that Professor Robinson was part of the same institution.
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“It’s unsettling for me as a student to think a member of university staff would defend a man whose views are so distasteful they’ve been suspended from the Labour Party,” he told Forge Press.
“University staff should know better than to undermine the fight against antisemitism” – union of jewish students
“The worst part of seeing Professor Robinson stick up for Williamson is it doesn’t surprise me.
“I’ve come across his name before last year when he was sticking up for Assad and Putin on Russia Today and it made me ashamed to be a member of the same institution.”
Senior academic Robinson, who has lectured at numerous leading British universities, also appeared on a line up to speak alongside Mr Williamson and suspended Labour activist Jackie Walker at a festival last Summer, Forge Press has learned.
‘University staff should know better’
Sheffield SU became embroiled in an anti-Semitism row in November after protests from Jewish students forced a last minute u-turn on Mr Williamson’s proposed talk on campus.
Commending the “courageous Jewish students” who fought against his visit, organised by Labour Students society, the Union of Jewish Students said that the bar should be set higher for staff in Mr Robinson’s position.
READ MORE: Chris Williamson anti-Semitism row
- Fallout after SLS invited Williamson to campus
- University defends invitation citing no-platform debate
- Williamson says Labour “too apologetic” on antisemitism
“We expect the university to take all actions necessary to ensure that Jewish students feel safe and welcome in their studies in Sheffield,” a UJS spokesperson told Forge Press.
Responding to the concerns raised, Professor Robinson said: “I have made no substantial statement or comment regarding the anti-semitism Labour Party issue other than signing a petition supporting MP Chris Williamson and retweeting a few articles.
“I do not believe there is no anti-semitism in the Labour Party. I do believe that the problem has been exaggerated for political purposes.”
Data obtained by The Independent last month showed that incidents of anti-Semitism on 19 British university campuses, including Holocaust denial pamphlets and anti-Semitic graffiti, had nearly tripled in two years.
Help is available for anyone affected by the issues raised in this article. The Student Advice Centre based at Sheffield Students’ Union is open 10am-5pm on weekdays. SAMHS, the university’s gateway for all mental health support, can be reached here. If you would like to speak to someone before then, Samaritans is a free support service available 24 hours a day by calling 116 123 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.