University College London (UCL) has launched an investigation after an academic was reported to have compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to the Holocaust.
Dr. Alex Pillen is an associate professor of anthropology at UCL specialising in the anthropology of conflict. The Standard has reported that Dr. Pillen, at a pro-Palestinian march in London on the 11th November, said:
I’m basically here because I think the situation is absolutely unacceptable. It’s an insult to humanity. What is happening in Gaza today is worse than Auschwitz. Gaza is worse than Bergen-Belsen. Gaza is worse than Dachau, worse than Lublin.
The paper claims that Pillen responded with the statement:
I am a scholar of war and the terrible consequences for civilian populations. I’m totally opposed to all forms of racism and antisemitism… I believe my words were decontextualised.
UCL have launched an investigation into whether Pillen’s alleged comments contravened its policies on antisemitism, informed the police, and removed Pillen’s profile from all UCL webpages: https://profiles.ucl.ac.uk/1028-alex-pillen. Notably, UCL has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which lists as a potential example of antisemitism “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. CAF has reported on the adoption of the IHRA definition in universities here.
Academic freedom entails the right to state opinions that may be deeply offensive. Saying that “What is happening in Gaza today is worse than Auschwitz” might be wrong or tasteless, but it is not against UK law. Dr. Pillen should not suffer reprisals from UCL.