The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Oxford Labour Co-Chair quits over factional splits & “poisonous” attitudes

Alex Chalmers, Co-Chair of OULC, has resigned after a decision was made to endorse Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual series of university lectures and rallies against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza

By

Alex Chalmers announced last night over Facebook his decision to resign as Co-Chair of Oxford University Labour Club (OULC), in response to OULC’s decision to endorse Israel Apartheid Week.

In his lengthy Facebook post Chalmers stated that it was “with the greatest regret that I have decided to resign as Co-Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club.”

Chalmers explained that he “originally ran for the position of Co-Chair back in Trinity, after [Labour’s] crushing defeat at the general election, because [he] was increasingly worried about the state of OULC.”

He added that the “club [he] had invested an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and emotion in during my first two terms at Oxford, which had given [him] a network of close friends, was becoming increasingly riven by factional splits, and despite its avowed commitment to liberation, the attitudes of certain members of the club towards certain disadvantaged groups was becoming poisonous.”

Chalmers referenced incidents where executive members had thrown around the term ‘Zio’—a derogatory term for Jews—and senior members of the club had expressed their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas with one former Co-Chair, according to Chalmers, claiming that “most accusations of antisemitism are just the Zionists crying wolf.”

He continued his post by declaring his belief that a “large proportion of both OULC and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews. The decision of the club to endorse a movement with a history of targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting anti-Semitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students, illustrates how uneven and insincere much of the active membership is when it comes to liberation.”

Chalmers said he had hoped during his tenure as Co-Chair to “move the club away from some of its more intolerant tendencies” but believes that he is “now in a position where [he] can no longer in good conscience defend club policy”.

The post ended with Chalmers wishing Noni Csogor, the remaining Co-Chair, “the very best for the rest of term” and stated he fully respected “her decision to continue, even if it is not one I can take myself”.

Csogor has now responded to Chalmers decision through a blog post on Medium in which she expressed being “deeply upset by Alex’s decision to resign, but it’s one I respect; his commitment to his principles is honestly admirable, and he is—and will remain—one of my close friends.”

Despite this she believed that the debate during which the decision to endorse the Israel Apartheid week was “healthy”, “passionate” and of a “civil nature”.

The result of the debate came back 18-16 in favour. Csogor stated she was “glad we as a club can be a place for this kind of democratic debate” and added that they “did not vote on a blanket position on the Israel-Palestine conflict; we voted to support Oxford’s Israeli Apartheid Week”.

Csogor highlighted that the “motion notes, OULC and the Labour Party have always been against racism and oppression in all its forms; this must include the policies of the current Israeli government.”

Chalmers is right, according to Csogor, “to highlight growing anti-Semitic violence in the UK as a major issue; it’s also horrifying that Jewish students feel unsafe on campuses. It’s unsurprising, given incidents like that at KCL Israel Society a few weeks ago, and I’m sure OULC members would join me in condemning the silencing of Jewish students, who often have uniquely nuanced perspectives on the Israeli state.”

While Csogor made it clear that “Jewish students spoke on both sides of the debate this evening”, she assured everyone “we take allegations of anti-Semitism in the club very seriously” and said they would be discussing “how to deal with the kinds of statements Alex mentions, and what concrete steps we can take in future to preserve a club that’s been a safe haven for Jewish students in the past.”

Csogor concluded her statement that while she understands Chalmers’ position, she looks forward to “contributing to an ongoing discussion about the complex intersection of justice for Palestine and the safety of Jewish students.”

Mo Ahmed, co-chair of Manchester Labour Students and a friend of Chalmers, has told The Mancunion that he was “very sorry to hear that Alex has resigned. He is a friend, and I know he has been trying to do the best job he can. It’s a real loss for the Labour Party.”

Since Chalmer’s resignation more allegations of anti-Semitism have come to light according to the Oxford University Jewish Society (OUJS). The society claim to have been approached by OULC members who have reported incidents including, members  stating that all Jews should be expected to publicly denounce Zionism and the state of Israel, and that we should not associate with any Jew who fails to do so. Another member of OULC was apparently formally disciplined by their College for organising a group of students to harass a Jewish student and to shout ‘filthy Zionist’ whenever they saw her.

OUJS explicitly reference the influx of the radical student left in recent weeks and months to OULC as playing a part in this rise in anti-semitic behaviour.

On their Facebook page Labour Students have released a statement, stating that they “were deeply troubled to hear reports of anti-semitism at one of our most prominent Labour Clubs”.

They claim to “unequivocally condemn any form of anti-semitism” and that they “are taking these allegations very seriously and will do whatever is necessary to ensure every Labour Club is a safe space for Jewish Students”.