'I feel like a leper' says Oxford poet in anti-Semitism row

By James Morrison,Arts,Media Correspondent
Thursday 05 December 2013 05:43

The poet Tom Paulin has broken his silence over the furore surrounding his condemnation of American Jews in Israel, complaining that he has been so ostracised by disapproving academic colleagues that he feels "like a leper".

Mr Paulin, a lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford, was pilloried in April after giving an interview to an Egyptian newspaper in which he dismissed "Brooklyn-born" settlers as "Nazis, racists ...", and said they should be "shot dead".

University authorities launched an investigation into his conduct, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews threatened to prosecute him under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act.

Until now, Mr Paulin has only qualified his views by stressing he supported the Middle East peace process and did not endorse attacks on Israeli citizens "under any circumstances".

But in an interview with a newsletter published by the charity that has funded his latest anthology, The Invasion Handbook, he describes how, as a result of his remarks, people have been avoiding him. In a brief, but candid, aside he tells the journal of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) that he "feels like a leper".

Mr Paulin, 53, best known for his acerbic observations as a regular arts pundit on BBC2's Newsnight Review, is currently on an overseas sabbatical and could not be contacted last night, but his latest comments have predictably raised wry smiles among some of his fellow scholars.

One senior member of the Oxford English faculty suggested Mr Paulin was suffering from "paranoia", adding: "I think he's being a bit self-pitying. He's a controversialist. He sets out to be like that.

"It's rather like Salman Rushdie. When people pick that kind of role for themselves and then get uptight because other people take against them, I always find that rather odd. You've got to be able to take it as well as dishing it out. I think he's had an easy time. He's still on his TV programme, and he hasn't been sacked."

Another long-standing lecturer described Mr Paulin as "a bit of a loose cannon", but added: "I don't want to shut him up, though."

While the Board of Deputies of British Jews has dropped any pretence of pursuing Mr Paulin through the courts, a university spokeswoman confirmed that the investigation into his conduct by college proctors was ongoing.

Mr Paulin has also been criticised by a judge for his "lamentable" behaviour in backing allegations of racial discrimination by one of his students. The student claimed, unsuccessfully, that he had been victimised by a lecturer who set him extra English tuition because of his linguistic difficulties.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments