The Cambridge University College named after Winston Churchill has been forced to remove a biography of the wartime prime minister by the convicted Holocaust denier David Irving following a complaint from an eminent Jewish historian, Christian Today has learnt.
A row over Irving's book broke out after Dr Irene Lancaster, a respected academic and the first teaching fellow in Jewish history at Manchester University visited Cambridge University last month for the launch of a biography which she translated of the former Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear Yashuv Cohen.
Dr Lancaster, who was staying at Magdalene College for the launch which was hosted by that College's Master, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, visited the Roskill library at Churchill College on February 1 for research purposes. Churchill College is twinned with Haifa Technion, Israel's most prominent scientific university in Haifa, where Dr Lancaster previously lived and worked on inter-faith relations.
After being shocked to discover two volumes of Irving's biography 'prominently' displayed alongside a biography of Churchill by the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Dr Lancaster complained to the office of Cambridge University's Vice Chancellor, Leszek Borysiewicz.
On February 15, Dr Lancaster received an unsigned email from the Vice Chancellor's office, stating: 'The Roskill library is essentially a library for Churchill studies. David Irving is very much part of that historiography. Holding his books in no way endorses his views or his scholarship and we would argue that the reverse is true. His books are held, however foul the views contained therein, so that others can challenge them and refute them.
'Irving's biography of Churchill has been held at the Roskill library on open access for visiting scholars studying Churchill to consult if they so desire. However, having been alerted to the issue of their display by the concerns you raised, the College and Archives Centre are removing Irving's books to closed access. Historians who wish to access them for specific scholarly reasons to do with the biography of Churchill will be able to do so, but only by request. The books will not be openly available on the shelves. We do not wish inadvertently to suggest that we endorse Irving in any way – we emphatically do not.'
The decision to remove Irving's work from open display was taken jointly at the highest level by Churchill College and the University.
It came after separate complaints over anti-Semitic leaflets being distributed around Cambridge University last month.
A Cambridge University spokesperson told Christian Today: 'The University is fully committed to the principle and promotion of freedom of speech and expression. The University upholds the rights of people to participate fully in legitimate debate, partly so that they are able to question and test controversial ideas. Holding banned or challenged books in no way endorses the views or scholarship of the authors. Rather, they are accessible to scholars to allow them the opportunity to challenge and refute their contents.
'The books were moved from a shelf in the Roskill Library to the Library reserve store, a closed area. Academics continue to be able to access the work by request. The University and Colleges of Cambridge have made clear that that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated, as has been publicly stated by the Vice-Chancellor. Churchill College, together with all Cambridge Colleges, remains committed to providing an environment that is inclusive, diverse and welcoming to those of all faiths, and none.'
Dr Lancaster said: 'Winston Churchill is regarded as a hero among the Jewish people. Seeing two volumes prominently displayed in the Churchill archive desecrating the University next to the book by Boris Johnson who admires Churchill, made me feel sick to my stomach. These [Irving] books should be labelled as offensive and historically worthless. They are an incitement to racial hatred. In the light of ongoing anti-Semitic incidents at Cambridge University including the leafleting of Holocaust denial material based on Irving's work the very next day after my visit to Churchill College, I think that the University should review its general library policy.'