Clare Solomon, president of the University of London Union, has written to the ULU Senate requesting that all copies of London Student are removed from public circulation after the paper published an article entitled ‘The Tight Fist’, reasoning that it ‘contains anti-Semitic content and is accompanied by an extremely anti-Semitic image’ and that ‘[t]he article has attracted many complaints of anti-Semitism’. The article is written by Dan Stein, a PhD Economics student. Mr Stein himself is Jewish.
London Student is the University of London’s official student publication. It publishes every fortnight and circulates around 10,000 copies across all the University of London’s campuses, including Royal Holloway. Supposedly, the paper has complete editorial control over its content. Each year, the paper is run by a new elected editor. This was the papers first printed edition of this academic year.
The paper was published on 13th of September and has now been withdrawn from circulation. Ms Solomon wrote to the ULU Senate, saying that she felt the need to do so ‘as a matter of urgency due to the nature of the problem’.
Mr Stein’s article is an advisory piece, informing students how to ‘party yourself silly and still have money left over to buy underwear and instant noodles’.
The problem presumably lies mainly in his first paragraph, where he writes:
‘Do you spend too much money? Fortunately, Jews such as myself possess tried and true penny-pinching strategies that have been handed down through the generations. I, The Tight Fist, have taken it upon myself to share my secrets of frugality.’
Mr Stein has since written an apology in response to Ms Solomon’s actions, saying that he understands ‘that upon first glance, the content of my article may appear anti-Semitic.’
Judaism is not referenced at any point in the article after the first paragraph. Additional points of possible controversy however are the associated blog’s slogan, ‘Lessons in frugality from a real Jew’ and the scrawled image that accompanies Mr Stein’s article on his blog and in the printed paper: a hand, from which hangs a Star of David necklace, clutching currency notes. In her letter to the Senate, Ms Solomon says that she is in ‘no doubt that the vile image … drudges up horrific memories for many of our Jewish friends who so many of will have had friends and family suffer at the hands of the Nazi’s’.
London Student’s editors also issued their own apology stating: ‘It is never our intention to offend or cause offence through our publication and we would like to offer our sincere apologies to anyone who felt that we did so.’
They continue on further to say: ‘We would not have printed the article if we had thought that it was anti-Semitic. It follows that we still do not feel that the article is anti-Semitic. We would like to state, with clarity and conviction, that we do not, and will not, tolerate any form of anti-Semitic content appearing in our pages.’
In his apology, Mr Stein explains that ‘the ‘gimmick’, if you will, is that it is a Jew teaching gentiles how to be frugal. Certainly this plays up on stingy stereotypes of Jews, but that does not make it anti-Semitic.’
He goes on with the intention of justification: ‘There are many ways to deal with a negative stereotype (such as that of Jews being stingy),’ he says. ‘One way would be to simply deny it or create an environment where it is socially unacceptable to invoke the stereotype. But another approach would be to embrace the stereotype and turn it into a badge of honour.‘
Mr Stein then cites the common ‘smart and hard-working’ stereotype of Chinese students – a stereotype rarely deemed to be offensive.
He concludes: ‘I seriously believe that being frugal is nothing to be ashamed of and would love to turn this into a positive stereotype,’ while highlighting more specifically that ‘[y]ou will notice that in my website I always use the word frugal (which has a positive connotation) and never stingy (which is undoubtedly negative).’
In defence of their printing of the article, London Student’s editors write that ‘[a]s a newspaper, we aim to remain neutral. We aim to allow our writers to express their opinions, whatever they may be, without undue censorship or favouritism toward a particular standpoint. In this way, we intend to encompass and engage the diversity of University of London’s student body.
‘Sadly, the point at which opinion becomes misguided is an opinion in itself and the point at which judgement becomes flawed is also a judgement. Should any reader ever feel that London Student has strayed in the wrong direction then we, as a newspaper, implore that reader to get in touch with us and we will ensure that your voice is not suppressed. We vehemently defend debate and free press and intend for this to remain open to all.’
On the subject of his blog as a whole, Mr Stein writes that ‘This website was created initially with a Jewish audience in mind, has many Jewish fans and I’ve never met anyone who has been insulted by the site.’
He concedes however that ‘certainly some people have been worried that other people might be insulted.’ With this in mind however, Mr Stein has consulted his Rabbi ‘and asked if he thought it was anti-Semitic or anyway immoral. His answer: “no problems, it’s just funny.”
‘Certainly not everyone would agree that the humour is in good taste,’ Mr Stein again accepts, ‘but hopefully I can convince people that it is at least done with good intentions.
‘This site is about embracing stereotypes,’ he adds, ‘not making fun of them.’
Mr Stein invites anyone who would like to speak to him about the matter to write personally to his email address.
London Student’s editors conclude their own apology: ‘We do not feel that we are guilty of anti-Semitism but accept that our complainants feel differently. It is in recognition of these complainants, and in recognition that our opinion holds no greater value than their own, that we offer this apology.’
In addition, London Student has led itself into another area of possible trouble. Despite its apparent editorial independence, London Student is constitutionally bound to have articles verified by the trustees of the University of London before publishing them. On this occasion, the editors conceed that‘London Student accidentally broke its constitutional duty by not having the article in question verified by the trustees’ though they go further to say that ‘[w]hile there is no excuse for this oversight, anyone who has sat in the offices of a newspaper hours before the publication goes to deadline will understand the furore in which such oversights can occur.’
It appears however, that there is a possibility London Student aren’t the only ones. Though Ms Solomon has undertaken this action ‘[f]urther to receiving legal advice’, she still may have been too rushed. London Student has written that ‘the constitution does not, in the opinion of London Student, appear to give the President the power to act in this manner. The President is able to act without consultation on matters that are minor, non-contentious or urgent. However, we respect the President’s request and assume that she must feel the matter to be of some urgency.’
In her original letter to the senate however, Ms Solomon says that she is seeking further legal advice. ‘As I’m sure you [the ULU Senate] can imagine there is much more to this issue than purely what is published in the paper’, she writes.
Ms Solomon has put the matter forward to be discussed at the first Senate on 19th October as she says she feels ‘it is important that the democratic political and representative body of the Union should be heard on such an important matter’.
The editor of London Student sits on the ULU Senate, but holds a non-voting seat.
The papers withdrawl will also mean that any other articles that all other articles (all student written) appearing in this edition of London Student will also be removed from further printed publication for the foreseeable future. The only way that students will be able to view these articles is if Ms Solomon’s suggestion to have a number of copies stored somewhere away from the public and available to read on request to either herself or the Senate.
Mr Stein’s article can be found here.