Now Manchester University dragged into Holocaust denial row over David Irving books

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Manchester University has come under fire for displaying books by the convicted Holocaust-denier David Irving on 'open access' in its main library after an eminent Jewish academic discovered the material.

Dr Irene Lancaster, who was the first Teaching Fellow in Jewish history at Manchester University, found yesterday that a copy of Hitler's War by Irving was shelved under 'Medieval and Modern History' in the university's John Rylands library. Dr Lancaster said that other books by Irving are also available in the library accessible by anyone with a university membership card.

Manchester University said in a statement to Christian Today that it was true that the books were openly available and said they were there to aid Holocaust studies.

The discovery comes amid a growing row over antisemitism in British universities and after the Minister for Higher Education, Jo Johnson, urged institutions to tackle 'intimidation and violence' against Jewish students.

Johnson last month wrote to the chief executives of the representative bodies for higher education institutions, reminding them of their responsibility to ensure students do not suffer 'discrimination, harassment or victimisation'.

Manchester's involvement in the row comes after Christian Today revealed earlier this month that Churchill College, Cambridge has moved a biography of Winston Churchill by Irving from open access to available on request after pressure from Dr Lancaster.

Last week, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and the Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge wrote to Johnson expressing concern about the presence of Holocaust-denying material on open display at university libraries.

A source at the Department for Education confirmed today that the minister had received the letter and stressed that universities must make their own rules.

In his letter, Dr Williams acknowledges this point but suggests that the government should hold a position on the subject, and points to the 'Prevent' legislation as being a possible tool for tackling the issue.

Dr Williams said that Holocaust-denying material should be labelled and available on request and not indiscriminately, and compares it to jihadi material.

(R to L) Guy Wilkinson, Irene Lancaster and Rowan Williams at the launch of 'Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen: Between War and Peace' by Yechiel Frish and Yedidya Hacohen.

In its statement to Christian Today, a spokesperson for Manchester University said: 'It is true that David Irving's books are available from the University Library. We have considered the matter carefully and have consulted with the University Librarian, and with senior colleagues across the University, including one of our leading authorities on the Holocaust.

'The University's position is that it is important that students should be able to read Irving when they write their essays about Holocaust denial. Their availability is not antisemitic: it shows that our students are discerning persons, and that we trust them. The books are also necessary to teach our students how to fight Holocaust denial – which they are very keen on learning about. We consider it important that these books remain available to students.

'The Library's approach is to classify its books according to likely levels of use. Many works in academic libraries could be deemed to be controversial in one way or another. Where there are legal reasons to restrict access, or the books in question are at risk of damage, we would remove them to a Special Collections location where they may be consulted by any reader on request.'

The response follows appeals from the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton, Graham Stringer, who has written to the President and Vice Chancellor of Manchester University, Dame Nancy Rothwell.

Further, the Anglican chaplain at Manchester University, Ben Edson wrote to the Head of Diversity at Manchester University, Patrick Johnson, saying: 'Dr Lancaster is a passionate campaigner and she will continue fighting for this cause. I stand with her – Holocaust denial is heinous and anything that suggest otherwise needs challenging.'

In an email seen by Christian Today, Manchester University's Holocaust academic Dr Jean-Marc Dreyfus told Edson: 'I was confronted to a similar problem a few years ago in our University library: I realised that the book The Hoax of the 20th Century, a 'classic' in Holocaust denial, was available in our library on shelf. I discussed the matter with one of our librarians and we decided to leave it in open access but to move it from the History division of our library to the "questions in historiography"'.

Dr Lancaster, who has engaged in extensive research on the Holocaust and has worked with the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem, said: 'I am absolutely appalled at the stance taken by Manchester University towards the request by a number of people, including their own Anglican Chaplain and the local MP, Graham Stringer, as well as myself.

'We have asked that the Irving collection be removed from open access on the shelves of the University to closed storage, where they should be labelled as Holocaust-denying material and be available by prior request only to accredited scholars in the field.

'This is a matter of actual and deliberate distortion of fact, not simply expressing unpleasant or unacceptable opinions.  With Holocaust denial, there is solid legal judgment to back up the exclusion of these works from history shelves and unrestricted access.

'Greater Manchester is home to the fastest-growing observant Jewish community in Europe and yet time and time again the University simply acts as if we do not exist.

'I had to tell the mother of a school friend of 50 years standing that David Irving was clearly on view and being taught at the local university, open to all and parading as real history, even though everyone knows that he was condemned as a racist and liar in a court case, has been imprisoned and is barred from certain European countries. This survivor – now aged 92 – simply did not have the words to react. I regard Manchester University as a disgrace in every way. We Jews are simply not welcome at Manchester University.'

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