A Canadian student with a history of denying the existence of Palestine and its people has been refunded £15,000 ($20,375) in fees by the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University over alleged anti-Semitism. Noah Lewis enrolled as a student for the academic year 2018/19, and claimed that he was forced to abandon his studies because of a “toxic anti-Semitic environment” in the university.
Examples of the “anti-Semitism” cited by Lewis in the Guardian include people who declare their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, as well as calling someone a “Zionist”. He also alleged that anti-Semitic graffiti and symbols were found on lockers, desks and toilet walls, but no details were provided. According to the Guardian, when Lewis stated his intention to write a dissertation on the “systemic biases that exist in the United Nations and target the state of Israel”, he said that fellow students accused him of being complicit in covering up Israeli war crimes and that he was a “white supremacist Nazi”.
UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), who last year hosted a notorious right-wing settler group which campaigns for the demolition of Palestinian villages, is said to have provided legal assistance to Lewis. He received the refund of his university fees last week following an appeal against the decision to compensate him with £500.
MEMO has written to SOAS requesting details of the case and whether it really does believe that supporting BDS and calling those who support the state of Israel “Zionists” are examples of anti-Semitism. The university was also asked to clarify if its decision was informed by the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. No reply had been received at the time of writing. Renowned expert on anti-Semitism Professor David Feldman has warned against the adoption of the IHRA definition and relying on the subjective views of students to judge allegations of racism.
Noah Lewis has a history of denying the existence of Palestine. In an article for the Times of Israel he peddled what has become a common myth of the Israeli far-right. “Do not forget there never was a Palestinian people,” he wrote in an article accusing the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) of what he called the “perpetuation of the world’s most unique ‘refugee crisis’.”
His denial of the existence of Palestine was repeated earlier this year in a tweet. Responding to a map of Palestine shared by a Gaza resident, Lewis put out a fictional map of countries from well-known films such as TheLord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, containing a region called Palestine.
SOAS has been a major target for pro-Israel supporters in recent years. In November 2017, the University of London arranged a screening of a film called “From Balfour to Banksy: Visions and Divisions in Palestine”. During the screening a group of agitators known to have ties to the far-right English Defence League (EDL) shouted aggressively at the speakers and were seen waving Israeli flags. Several audience members were visibly distressed and left the lecture theatre as a result. The ugly scenes were captured on video.