A lecturer accused of posting antisemitic messages on Facebook has been suspended from the University of Essex.
An investigation was launched after the computer science lecturer Dr Maaruf Ali allegedly posted the claim: “The Zionists next want to create a society here at our university,” on a Facebook page for university freshers.
Despite opposition from 200 students in a vote on Thursday, the new Jewish society will be set up, according to the university.
Other since-deleted posts from Ali’s account appeared to deny the Holocaust, while one shared image from a far-right Nazi-apologist website claimed one of the French police officers shot dead in the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks was “a Mossad agent live and well in Buenos Aires … a crypto-Jew in the service of Israeli intelligence”.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Anthony Forster, said the incident had filled him with “great sadness” and that antisemitism was “antithetical to the values of the University of Essex and has no place at our university”.
He also announced the university had launched a review to ensure it offered “unequivocal support” to Jewish staff and students. Next week a public event will be held at the institution, which is based in Colchester, to demonstrate its support for the Jewish community.
The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who is the university’s chancellor, said he was “very concerned” by the reports. He added: “As university chancellor, I will be seeking an urgent discussion with the university administration.”
The vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Amanda Bowman, commended the vice-chancellor for suspending Ali, ratifying the formation of a Jewish society and launching an internal review into the experience of Jewish students and staff.
“Having already adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, this leadership and firm resolve bodes well so that Jewish life can flourish at the university,” said Bowman.
A student from an Amnesty International society at the university is alleged to have directed students to vote against the proposed Jewish society on account of its manifesto saying it would celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
Nick Sunshine from the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said: “The Jewish society did not say that it would have a narrow stance on Israel or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is antisemitic to deny the Jewish people their national self-determination. Educational activity on Israel and Zionism is not ‘taking a political stance’.
“It is shameful that a group ostensibly concerned with human rights has shown such disregard for human decency and the rights of all peoples to freely explore and full express their distinct identity.”
In a statement on Twitter, Amnesty UK said: “The comments made by a member of the University of Essex Amnesty group on the proposed manifesto for the new Jewish Society at Essex University do not reflect the view of the Essex University Amnesty Society and Amnesty International UK.
“Whilst they were well intentioned, their view to conflate Israel Independence Day with the human rights abuses committed by the Israeli authorities is wrong.”
More than 200 students voted against the society in a poll since declared void due to an “irregularity”.
In response to a statement from the UJS following the vote, the Countdown presenter Rachel Riley tweeted: “The cancer that is antisemitism is spreading. Shocking discrimination.”
Alongside the former EastEnders actor Tracy Ann Oberman, Riley is taking legal action against individuals for tweets related to their campaign against antisemitism in the Labour party.