Harvard invites Oxford academic who wants some Jews “shot dead”

November 12, 2002

I attach an article I wrote, published today.

(P.S. For follow-up, see here, here and here.)



Welcome voice? Harvard invites academic who wants Jews “shot dead”
By Tom Gross
National Review online (New York)
November 12, 2002

Harvard University’s English department has invited Tom Paulin – the Oxford poet who has called for the slaughter of U.S. Jews on the West Bank – to deliver “The Morris Gray Lecture” this Thursday (November 14). The invitation was sent to other faculty heads last week, encouraging them to have their students attend, and an announcement was made on the English department’s web page.

Earlier this year Paulin, who lectures in 19th- and 20th-century English literature at Oxford University, told the influential Egyptian paper al-Ahram Weekly that what he described as “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers should be “shot dead.” He said: “They should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them.” He added: “I can understand how suicide bombers feel... I think attacks on civilians in fact boost morale.”

Paulin, who has regularly declared that Israel has no right to exist, and recently resigned from Britain’s ruling Labour party on the grounds that Tony Blair was heading a “Zionist government,” is no doubt entitled to his opinion. But that Harvard University’s English department, whose faculty members include such luminaries as Nobel-prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, has decided to single Paulin out for honor and provide him with a platform from which to influence the young, is another matter altogether. While in general, formal boycotts (even of those who espouse hatred and murder) are undesirable, this invitation is not appropriate. As one dissenting faculty member told me yesterday “We don’t have to invite the Ku Klux Klan to tea either.”


However, this is not just the equivalent of, for example, Harvard inviting a mathematician who happens to belong to the Ku Klux Klan, to give a lecture on mathematics. In Paulin’s case his political and racial views are integral to his work. He has written poems demonizing Jews, such as “Killed in Crossfire,” which was published by The Observer, the highly regarded British Sunday sister paper of the Guardian as their poem of the week in February 2001. (In the poem, Paulin suggested that the Israeli army, whom he refers to as the “Zionist SS,” deliberately gunned down “little Palestinian boys.”)

Like many bigots, if we take Paulin at face value, he seems to genuinely be in denial about his own prejudice. “I am a philo-semite,” he declared in an interview with the Daily Telegraph earlier this year.

Yet even the Guardian – certainly no friend of Israel – has run editorials accusing Paulin of anti-Semitism. In a piece titled “Can Tom Paulin be serious?” (Guardian, April 17, 2002) Rod Liddle implies he is referring to Paulin when he uses the Arabic description for a “naive, deluded, self-righteous, egregious bigot.”

Liddle adds: “The Paulin business shook me out of my Wasp-ish complacency. I’d been inclined to dismiss as paranoid repeated complaints from British Jews that there was a new mood of anti-Semitism abroad: I was wrong. Paulin will undoubtedly claim that his remarks are not anti-Semitic, but merely anti-Zionist. He may even believe that himself. So might the others, generally from the left, who, when cross-examined about their opposition to what they call Zionism, reveal a dark and visceral loathing of Jews.”

In fact Liddle is almost alone on the left in denouncing this form of anti-Semitism, and only a few brave commentators from the right and center, such as Michael Gove at the Times of London (“Darkness encroaches,” May 3, 2002) have spoken out in a similar vein.


British and other academics have been conspicuous by their lack of criticism of Paulin, just as they were conspicuous by their lack of condemnation when the cafeteria at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University – the leading institute of higher education in the Middle East – was blown up in July, and several students and academics killed.

As the Daily Telegraph reported “Several Oxford fellows said yesterday that they had received emails from an American academic urging the English Faculty to replace Mr. Paulin, but they said they had deleted the message seconds later.”

It is highly unlikely that Paulin’s colleagues would have remained so silent had he incited people to murder blacks, homosexuals, or anybody else other than Americans and Jews. Now Oxford will no doubt welcome Harvard’s stamp of endorsement of him.

But whereas a number of academics (including some Jewish ones) have jumped to Paulin’s defense, some non-Jewish students at Oxford have criticized their own university authorities. For example, Sarah Monroe, president of the student union at Balliol College, Oxford, explained to the Guardian on May 7, 2002, that on behalf of Balliol students she had written to the vice chancellor of Oxford, the master of Hertford College (Paulin’s college at Oxford), and to the faculty of English and urged them to “rethink Oxford University’s response.”

“Such public advocation of violence against particular ethnic or political groups is not acceptable and the university should not pussy-foot around saying so,” wrote Monroe.

Oxford University has taken no action against Paulin, however, not even a reprimand, even though Paulin is actually in violation of British law. The Terrorism Act 2000, section 59, states: “A person commits an offence if he incites another person to commit an act of terrorism wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom.” The first such “act of terrorism” cited is murder. Moreover, the act states that “it is immaterial whether or not the person incited is in the United Kingdom at the time of the incitement.”


Indeed, despite Paulin’s views, his “star billing” continues to rise. So enamored of the “trendy” British poet and academic are the members of one reasonably successful British rock band (from the northern town of Blackburn), that they have called themselves “Tompaulin.”

BBC television continues to invite Paulin as one of its regular commentators on the arts. (One can only guess at the BBC’s reaction if his remarks had been directed at British Pakistanis rather than at American Jews.)

To al-Ahram, Paulin is that “rare thing in contemporary British culture, ‘the writer as conscience.’“ Some Europeans apparently agree. A. N. Wilson, a novelist and columnist for the Daily Telegraph and (London) Evening Standard, has leaped to Paulin’s defense, and noted that “many in this country and throughout the world would echo his views on the tragic events in the Middle East.”

Wilson, who also recently said he had “reluctantly” concluded Israel no longer had a right to exist, argued that Jews escaping Hitler (who Wilson says were lucky to have been allowed into a free country like Britain) should not be so “un-British” as to suppress Paulin’s views or to “pretend that they are criminal merely because some people find them offensive.”

The president of Harvard, Larry Summers, who less than two months ago denounced the spread of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism at American universities, is said in private to be “horrified” by the invitation to Paulin, but has made no public comment. But a minority of members of the English faculty is preparing a statement distancing themselves from the invitation to Paulin, which they hope to publish today or tomorrow.


The Harvard English Department’s choice of Paulin – at a time when Israeli Jews, men, women, and children, American-born or otherwise, are being shot dead almost daily – is truly remarkable. Can they have been completely unaware, for instance, of the well-publicized criticism of Paulin earlier this year by a British judge, who accused him of “lamentable” behavior in bringing an unfounded racial harassment case against another academic?

Judge Playford, QC, ruled that Paulin had made baseless claims of racism against a fellow don, Fred Zimmermann. In a scandal involving Nadeem Ahmed, a Muslim student at Oxford who failed a qualifying exam and then alleged racial discrimination against the university, Paulin’s claim that Zimmerman, one of the examiners, had been “bunged off to Israel to get out of the way” was completely untrue.

The judge found that Paulin and Ahmed had been “mischievous” in their groundless claims of racism. It was “lamentable,” he said, that Paulin had left “cryptic phone messages” with the university authorities and made many insinuations about Zimmermann, who, as it turned out, is neither Jewish nor Israeli, but German.

The previous president of Harvard, Neil Rudenstine, introduced what have come to be known as the Rudenstine rules, whereby students are entitled to study in an environment free of racism and hostility. On Monday some students at Harvard were letting it be known to those academics who invited Paulin how deeply hurtful Paulin’s brand of hatred is to them.

(Tom Gross is a former Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and New York Daily News. He recently wrote for NRO on the media and “Jeningrad.”)


UPDATE: Harvard withdraws its invitation to Tom Paulin

Members of the Harvard English faculty subscribe to this email list, and following the publication of my National Review article, Harvard has cancelled its invitation to Tom Paulin.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.