A University of Auckland professor is to leave his job after an anti-Semitism row sparked by a letter he submitted to the Waikato Times.
Professor Scott Poynting compared an Israeli company employing Palestinians to a German company employing Jews. His letter read, “Thank you for explaining in your article how SodaStream generously provided work for Palestinians. I understand that IG Farben provided work for large number of Jews. Not that I have anything against Germans, mind you.”
The Farben factory referred to in the letter is notorious for making the gas used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews.
The commentary drew accusations of anti-Semitism from various groups and commentators, including the New Zealand Jewish Council and a fellow academic. One online group, Shalom.Kiwi wrote:
“Prof Scott Poynting is a scholar of hate crime at the University of Auckland. Sadly ironically, he is also the author of a sickening anti-Semitic letter to the Waikato Times on Nov 28th.
The letter is anti-Semitic primarily because it seeks to draw false parallels between Nazi Germany and Israel and is sickening as the Farben factory referred to in the letter is notorious for making the gas used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews. Such demonisation and delegitimization of Israel not only fails Sharansky’s ‘3-D’ test, the comparison is also explicitly part of the European working definition of anti-Semitism and the definition used by the US State department.”
University Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon sought to address complainants via a letter in which he detailed investigations had been undertaken.
The institution had found Poynting not guilty of professional misconduct though it had been suggested to Poynting he should write a second letter to the editor of the Waikato Times clarifying he was not intending to make anti-Semitic remarks, McCutcheon said.
Poynting had refused to write a clarification, so McCutcheon apologised on behalf of the educational institution.
“… I do acknowledge that the way in which Scott Poynting expressed himself caused considerable distress to many members of the community. On behalf of the University of Auckland, I offer my own sincere apologies for that distress,” McCutcheon wrote.
However, the final line of McCutcheon’s letter saw the New Zealand Tertiary Education Union (TEU) wade into the debate.
“Professor Poynting’s employment with the University of Auckland concludes on 30 June 2016.”
TEU organiser Enzo Giodani clarified that Poynting was, in fact, retiring in June, as had always been the case.
The university, however, would not confirm the manner of his departure.
The union suggested the final line made it seem as though Poynting had been pressured to leave the university as a result of the fracas, he said. “The letter is misleadingly written. No action was taken against Scott Poynting”.
When questioned whether Poynting was retiring, the university said it had no further comment on this matter, other than what was in the letter was accurate.
The New Zealand Jewish Council was not satisfied with McCutcheon’s letter, either.
In a joint statement, New Zealand Jewish Council chairman Geoff Levy and president Stephen Goodman said they were still seeking an apology from Poynting, and wanted the University of Auckland to publicly distance itself from the remarks.
“The hateful views expressed by Professor Poynting in his letter to the Waikato Times have no place in New Zealand, let alone within our academic institutions. While it is reassuring to know that Poynting will not be working at the University of Auckland much longer, the private nature of the apology from Professor McCutcheon does not promote transparency or proper accountability.
“The New Zealand Jewish Council would have expected the University of Auckland to publicly distance itself from the views of Professor Poynting, as other universities have done in similar situations, rather than privately apologise for any distress caused.”