Difficult decisions or discrimination at Oxford centre for Jewish studies

There is a curious news report in the Daily Telegraph today here, reprinted at VirtueOnline here.  There is also a Telegraph blog by Damian Thompson here.

Oxford University lecturer ‘discriminated against’ after converting to Christianity
A lecturer at Oxford University’s centre for Jewish studies claims colleagues discriminated against her after she converted to Christianity.

Dr Tali Argov says she was overlooked for promotion, stripped of her privileges and cold-shouldered at social gatherings.

She says staff wanted to vet her lectures to make sure that, as a Christian, she would not criticise Israel.

Eventually she claims she was made redundant from her post at the prestigious Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies, despite offering to take on new roles.

Dr Argov is claiming unfair dismissal and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief at Reading Employment tribunal.

I only know what the news report says.  Naturally I am opposed to discrimination against Christians, because I am one.  But I have mixed feelings about all this. 

My first response is to wonder why someone following a religion founded by a Jew cannot hold a post at a centre dedicated to Jewish studies.  Presumably the idea  is that anyone who becomes a Christian ceases to be a Jew, and that only Jews can hold posts at the centre.  This seems a little extreme, unless the centre is really dedicated to studying Judaism, rather like a theological college.  It would be quite understandable in the last case that staff should share a certain ethos.

On the other hand, I can’t help feeling that people should be able to employ who they want to.  In particular Jewish groups which support Israel are unpopular with the political establishment in the UK, and need to organise themselves to rebut a great deal of obstruction.  Shouldn’t they be able to ensure  that they’re all singing from the same songsheet?

And there is yet another aspect to this.  This is Britain.  English Christians are a mild lot, even the most evangelical of us.  We do not wear suicide belts.  Christianity has been part of the University of Oxford since its beginning (despite various expulsions and harassment in periods of moral decay).  Is having a CofE member in the centre really that radical?

In the pyramid of privileged groups that the establishment has erected in modern Britain, Christians are plankton.  They really do get targetted by the nastier sort of bureaucrat.  But Jewish groups, which have been more privileged, are sliding down the chain and starting to get the same treatment.  Most Christians are pro-Israel, for obvious reasons.  Is there no way that Christians and Jews can work together?

I have no answers.  I have a feeling that no-one will come out of this well.   And … I am quite sure that the full story is not in the newspaper article.  But well done to the Daily Telegraph for reporting this story.


7 thoughts on “Difficult decisions or discrimination at Oxford centre for Jewish studies

  1. Like you, I have mixed feelings about this. Or rather, I suspect there is more to the story. I know nothing about this case, but there are several Christians and people with no clear faith commitment listed as being on staff at the OCHJS, so I would be surprised if this is simply a matter of religious discrimination. True, conversion may be a slightly different matter, but even then, knowing several of the people at the Centre personally, I would be surprised – even shocked – if it were that simple.

  2. Thanks for your extra info, which actually makes the story less comprehensible; and thereby indicates that there really must be more to this story. Could it just be a clash of personality?

    If so, while I know many people depend on their jobs, have families, and shouldn’t be at the total mercy of nasty middle managers (I’ve worked for some of the latter!), wouldn’t it be best for everyone to move on? And … I can’t help wondering why it is the business of the government to decide who works where.

  3. As a former student of the department, I feel I should say in their defence that plenty of the staff there were Christian! And In the year I studied there, I was the lone Jewish student, a sometimes uncomfortable situation as I was actually harassed over my religion by my flatmate. Though the Centre has plenty of problems, I don’t think that antipathy to Christians is really one of them. Also, the financial situation really was dire, and all other language teachers were kept on hourly rates (admittedly a situation we students felt was awful – I received so much help and academic support from my language teacher, and it was really sad that she wasn’t better valued). That said, the President whom Dr Argov’s grievances are particularly against left the year before I came, so I don’t know much of him, and students never really know what’s going on behind the scenes, so I wouldn’t want to pass judgement on the case. I remember the tutor concerned, she was a very nice woman, and I’m sad to hear it came to this. But I also don’t want you to think that the Centre is a hotbed of anti-Christian prejudice, because that picture really does not chime with my experience of the place, and is also not fair to the many kind and open staff members who welcomed all students – Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Atheist, in my year – regardless of their faith or lack of it. I really don’t understand what happened here.

  4. As another former student of the Centre and a student of Tali during that year, i would like to add a note that – trying to be fair and conservative in my wording – she had a flair for the dramatic, and i wasn’t shocked(but was saddened) to hear of this case; i would chalk it up to nothing more than her trying to get some money and exploit a sensitive subject. OCHJS is one of the most open/ecumenical places i have encountered (as the previous poster said, most of the students in a typical year are Christian, and many of the faculty are; the staff even threw a Christmas party for my classmates); the first time that most staff and students even heard about Tali’s conversion was in this news story; and, incidentally, she was one of the most (inappropriately, i thought) pro-israel teachers i’ve encountered – certainly not openly critical, as she claimed the Centre tried to discourage (and further, many if not most faculty i encountered were openly critical of israel in the classroom – hardly discouraged from doing so, as Tali claims). With a number of other openly Christian faculty, her claim of discimination has no basis – it is a professional, academic centre where scholarship and teaching are the priorities, not one’s creed.

    let me just emphasize that i (and every student from my year i spoke to about this) disbelieve any claim that she was fired because of her conversion/faith; the Centre was simply in a financially tight situation, like so many others in recent years, and (when she refused to take a pay cut commensurate with number of lessons/week, as had the two other language lecturers) they let her go for that reason. I’m frustrated and upset by her accusations and their implications, and the publicity they have gotten. I would go as far as saying there is absolutely no truth to her claims whatsoever and that her actions were out of selfishness. Fortunately, I have received word today that the courts have ruled against her and found no fault in the Centre’s actions.

  5. Thank you for your note. Do you have a link to the court decision? It would be good to have it here.

    I don’t claim to know the facts, but I appreciate the updates.

  6. I heard in an email from the president, but will certainly post if i find any media coverage!

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