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Harvard bans Paulin over 'Nazi Jews' slur

Harvard bans Paulin over 'Nazi Jews' slur

Author: Tim Reid
Publication: The Times, UK
Date: November 14, 2002

Harvard University yesterday cancelled a reading by Tom Paulin, the Irish poet, after he allegedly said Jewish settlers born in the US but living in the Israeli-occupied territories were Nazis who should be "shot dead".

Mr Paulin, an Oxford University don and acerbic mainstay of BBC Two's News-night Review, was scheduled to appear at the Ivy League college today to read selected texts for a lecture series at its English department.

But after numerous student complaints, Lawrence Buell, the department chairman, said that the reading had been cancelled "by mutual consent of the poet and the English department".

Mr Buell also apologized for the consternation that the invitation to Mr Paulin had caused. He said the poet was invited last winter, before his remarks were made public.

In April Mr Paulin, no stranger to plain speaking, was quoted in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram weekly as saying that "Brooklyn-born Jews" who became settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories "should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them."

 The Arabic-language newspaper also quoted the 53-year old poet as saying: "I can understand how suicide bombers feel. It is an expression of deep injustice and tragedy. I think that attacks on civilians, in fact, boost morale."

Mr Paulin, who lectures in 19th and 20th-century English literature at Oxford, has since said that his views were distorted by the newspaper.

His argument has not placated many Jewish people at Harvard or the American Jewish lobby. Benjamin Solomon-Schwartz, undergraduate president of Harvard Hillel, a Jewish student body, said that he was heartened by the university's decision, adding that Mr Paulin's comments crossed the line between opinion and "being inhumane".

A sophomore, Erol Gulay, 19, co-chairman of the student group Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, said that Mr Paulin's comments were "offensive and extremist". However, the school might be setting an unfortunate precedent, Mr Gulay said. "It's a blow for academic freedom and free speech. It's bad for the free exchange of ideas, which is what a university is all about. If he can't come speak at a university, where can he speak?"

Shortly after his comments were published Mr Paulin said: "I have been and am a lifelong opponent of anti-Semitism and a consistent supporter of a Palestinian state. I do not support attacks on Israeli citizens under any circumstances. I am in favour of the current efforts to achieve a two-stage solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The terrible events in the Middle East are a real source of anguish. We are all responsible for what is happening there, and we ate responsible, too, for finding a just and lasting peace."

Mr Paulin's views on the Middle East have been reflected in his poetry. In his poem Killed in the Crossfire, he writes of "another little Palestinian boy in trainers jeans and a white tee-shirt" killed by the "Zionist SS".

At the British Press 'Awards this year he accused the satirists John Fortune and John Bird of failing to expose the "Zionism" of new Labour. But that was tame compared with a televised debate with Germaine Greer, herself no wallflower, about the role of British paratroops at Bloody Sunday.

"They were thugs sent in by public schoolboys to kill innocent Irish people. They were rotten racist bastards," he said.

Mr Paulin, who was born in Leeds but lived in South Belfast from the age of four, has described himself as coming from "a dying breed of old middle class, Protestant, socialist dissenters".

He is on a two-year sabbatical from Oxford University and is lecturing at Colombia University, New York. He was unavailable for comment last night. Oxford University said yesterday that it had conducted an inquiry into the alleged comments, but had decided to take no action against Mr Paulin.

A BBC spokesman said: "Tom is a major independent contributor to News-night Review. The BBC is satisfied, from assurances Tom Paulin gave both privately to the BBC and in a subsequent statement that he does not hold the views ascribed to him."

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