Current Affairs

Oxford JSoc condemns St Peter’s College event over Ken Loach’s history of antisemitism

CW: antisemitism, racism

A St Peter’s College event featuring the filmmaker Ken Loach has taken place tonight, despite Oxford JSoc expressing Jewish students’ concern about Loach’s antisemitic beliefs and history of antisemitic comments.

In a statement released this afternoon, Oxford JSoc said that it was “deeply disappointed” by the college’s decision, explaining that “over the weekend, Jewish students at St Peter’s met with Professor [Judith] Buchanan [Master of St Peter’s College] to express their upset and dismay” at Loach’s invitation to speak at his alma mater. Despite this, Buchanan told the students that the 6pm event would be happening regardless.

Oxford JSoc has condemned Buchanan’s decision in its statement, noting the society’s concern that “on this occasion, the leadership of St Peter’s College has not shared” JSoc’s view of how best to “protect the welfare of Jewish students in Oxford”.

Loach graduated from the college with a degree in law in 1957, and went on to become a renowned social filmmaker, directing the BBC television play Cathy Come Home (1966) and the award-winning I, Daniel Blake (2016). However, Loach has made numerous antisemitic statements and has criticised allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, as well as a 2018 BBC Panorama documentary that investigated antisemitic incidents within the party. In 2017, Loach, a vocal left-wing supporter of Corbyn, had made comments suggesting that it was possible to deny that the Holocaust took place.

In this afternoon’s statement, JSoc released a set of concerns about Loach’s antisemitic beliefs and the college’s decision to hold the event. JSoc say that Loach’s comments breach the “IHRA definition [of antisemitism], which was recently adopted by the University of Oxford”.

Oxford University Jewish Society’s statement in full reads:

“Oxford University Jewish Society is deeply disappointed by the decision of Professor Judith Buchanan, Master of St Peter’s College, to host an event with filmmaker Ken Loach. On numerous occasions, Loach has made remarks that are antisemitic under the IHRA definition, which was recently adopted by the University of Oxford.

Over the weekend, Jewish students at St Peter’s met with Professor Buchanan to express their upset and dismay at the event’s happening. In spite of this, Ken Loach is still due to speak this evening, a decision which we condemn.

The Jewish Society will always do its utmost to protect the welfare of Jewish Students in Oxford. It is concerning that on this occasion, the leadership at St Peter’s College has not shared this sentiment.

Samuel Benjamin, President 

James Onona, Vice President”

This evening, prior to the event, St Peter’s College released a statement about Loach’s invitation on Twitter. They said that:

“Ken Loach, an alumnus of St Peter’s College, has been invited by the College and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities to speak about two of his films. These films form part of a distinguished filmmaking career. This is the latest in a run of occasions on which Ken Loach has been invited to speak in College, all of which have previously been very well received by students. The event will be respected as advertised and we look forward to a good conversation about the films on this occasion.

Significant concerns about the event have been brought clearly to the College’s attention and we are committed to creating further opportunities for these concerns to be properly respected and discussed within College. St Peter’s stands vigorously against all forms of discrimination and always seeks to support students who are discriminated against.

In the context of the current conversation, College affirms without reservation its very strong opposition to anti-semitism. It recognises the appalling atrocities that anti-semitism has wrought and can bring. While not believing that no-platforming is the way to pursue goals of a free and open academic community, it is committed to supporting students who find such decisions painful and to finding ways to address these questions within College as part of a broader, ongoing conversation.”

The Blue has contacted St Peter’s College for comment.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Mitchell Marshall

Mitch (he/ him) is Editor-in-Chief for Trinity term 2021 as well as a long-suffering Sunderland fan, keen runner and general sports obsessive. His other interests include indie music, arthouse cinema, and coffee.