The filmmaker has provoked controversy in the past over allegedly antisemitic commentsWIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Ken Loach, a film director expelled from the Labour party amid a row over antisemitism, will be hosted by Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), later this term (30/11).

As part of a discussion of his 2019 film Sorry We Missed You, Loach will be speaking alongside academics from the faculties of Education and Modern and Medieval Languages.

Known for his left-wing views and socially critical works, Loach has been the subject of controversy, predominantly concerning accusations of antisemitism.

In an email seen by Varsity, two Jewish students questioned CRASSH’s decision to platform Loach given his “serious and harmful comments regarding Jewish people”.

The email argued: “in the past he has also frequently perpetuated conspiracy theories by suggesting that Jewish people who expressed their concerns at the rising prevalence of antisemitism in the Labour party were part of a smear campaign.

“We do not feel the need to expand on any personal fears felt by us and our Jewish friends at this time, who have witnessed the constant and seemingly unnoticed prevalence of antisemitism in our modern culture that is perpetuated by such obvious violent ideology.”

However in an email responding to the students CRASSH director, Professor Joanna Page, stood by the move to invite Loach, stating that the University has “a clear position on the freedom of speech”, explaining: “It does not condone the no-platforming of speakers, as we have a statutory duty to uphold the right to freedom of speech within the law.”

Pro-Corbyn activists protest outside the BBCSteve Eson / Flickr

Page wrote that Loach “has been invited to speak about the relationship between everyday economic stress and mental health, a subject that he has explored very knowledgeably in his recent work”. She added that anyone “who objects to his views on that subject or any other has a right to pose questions at the event or to protest peacefully”.

“We recognise that this response may not fully address your wider concerns. We would be very happy to work with you in organising another event at CRASSH on anti-Semitism in the UK or a related theme, given the importance of this topic,” Page continued.

Another Jewish student, Sam Grankin, told Varsity that Loach’s invite is a “real slap in the face for Jewish students”, noting that he “has had numerous breaches of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, including denying the lived experience of Jewish members of the Labour party.”

Grankin stated: “For a university and student body that claims to be against all forms of racism, the invitation of this man is yet another example of Cambridge institutions simply not taking antisemitism seriously or suggesting that they know more about antisemitism than Jewish people. To say I am angry is an understatement.”

Grankin and the students who wrote to CRASSH with their concerns drew attention to an incident at the 2017 Labour party conference. Asked by a journalist if it was unacceptable to discuss whether or not the Holocaust happened, Loach stated: “History is for all of us to discuss. All history is our common heritage to discuss and analyse. The founding of the State of Israel, for example, based on ethnic cleansing, is there for us to discuss… So don’t try to subvert that by false stories of antisemitism.”

Comments made by the filmmaker also prompted controversy following the 2008-2009 Gaza war, when he said he was “not surprised” at a rise in antisemitism, calling it “perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism”. He went on to add that “no one can condone violence”.

This is not the first time Loach’s appearance at an Oxbridge college has caused controversy. In early 2021, Judith Buchanan, master of St Peter’s College, Oxford — Loach’s alma mater — sparked a backlash when she interviewed the film-maker at the College.


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The Oxford University Jewish Society wrote that they were “disappointed” at the College’s decision to host Loach, claiming that on “numerous occasions, Loach has made remarks that are antisemitic under the IHRA definition”.

The College’s master subsequently issued an apology to Jewish students for interviewing Loach.

Loach supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party and was a member of the organisation Labour Against the Witchhunt, which sought to campaign against what it considered to be false, politically motivated allegations of antisemitism in the party.

In August 2021, his refusal to “disown” members of the group who had already been expelled from the party led to Loach being expelled himself, after the party leadership banned Labour Against the Witchhunt.

Loach’s expulsion divided opinion within the Labour party.

The chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, Mike Katz, supported Loach being kicked out, stating: “Good riddance. Holocaust inversion, tropes about a lobby controlling media and politics, claims Jews exploit the Holocaust for political ends. If you are defending Loach as a good socialist, you need to take a long hard look at your definition.”

Others, however, were keen to jump to Loach’s defence. John McDonnell, shadow chancellor under Corbyn, argued that to “expel a fine socialist who has done so much to further the cause of socialism is a disgrace”, while Labour MP Jon Trickett questioned: “What kind of people would remove someone of Ken Loach’s calibre from the Labour party?”