UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Sociology student failed for “not blaming Israel” to sue university

A sociology student at Leeds University intends to sue her university after she was given a fail mark for a module because she wrote an essay on Hamas’s crimes without blaming Israel. The essay markers peppered their remarks with biased anti-Israel comments and their hostility to Israel can also be seen on their social media.

In the final year of the 3-year BA course, Danielle Greyman chose an optional module about crimes of states and powerful elites. Marks for the module were based solely on a case study on a topic selected by the student. With her tutor’s agreement, Danielle decided to write about the crimes and immorality of Hamas and the role of the UN in facilitating them. The tutor agreed that she should not discuss alleged crimes of Israel in the essay or assess fault between Israel and Hamas, as the essay was not about Israel.

Danielle had never failed an assignment previously and was on track to receive a class 2.1 honours degree. However, her essay on Hamas was failed by the examiners.

The main reasons given for failing this module were:

  1. The essay did not discuss alleged crimes of Israel.

  2. The markers said the essay was too short – even though it met the specified requirement of 5,000 words +/- 10%..

The feedback on the essay by the markers indicated hostility and prejudice against Israel.

Examples of the biased anti-Israel feedback on the essay included

  • When Danielle was discussing Hamas’s use of human shields she wrote “While dense population may or may not deter military action from Israel, the use of human shields has been heavily critiqued as a betrayal of the Palestinian people by their government”. The marker wrote in relation to the first part of this statement: “It does not. As has been recently demonstrated” (the marking took place shortly after the IDF’s “Guardian of the Walls” operation responding to rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli towns). The marker added “This ignores the fact that the Israeli state commits the acts of violence regardless of this”. In making these comments the marker ignored ample evidence that the risk of civilian casualties does deter military action by Israel, even if it does not always prevent such action.

  • Danielle wrote about Hamas storing and firing weapons against Israel from UN schools and hospitals in Gaza and its use of children as a human shields. The markers commented on this paragraph, “What about the war crime of killing them?” In making this comment, the markers took for granted that war crimes were committed by Israel by killing children. However, military action may cause the death of children without being a war crime.

  • Danielle’s essay discussed how “.. whether Israel chooses to respond/attack, Hamas gains some benefit; often at the expense of Palestinians.” The markers commented on this: “The fact is not ‘whether’ … the attacks happen and there is a huge disparity in social harm. Palestinians suffer and die during Israeli military action. And this is not being mentioned at any point”. However, Israel does not necessarily respond to attacks by Hamas, particularly if the risk of civilian casualties appears to outweigh the military advantage to be gained.

  • The markers described the long-established Jerusalem Post as “a particularly biased media source”, and suggested that its factual reports should not be believed.

  • Danielle gave eight examples of antisemitism being taught in UNWRA schools to children in Gaza. These included a teacher who venerates Hitler to their children; and teachers who glorify and celebrate knife attacks, kidnapping and ransoming and other attacks against Israelis. The markers wrote: “So seven teachers constitute a wave of antisemitism? This “evidence” is also weakened by the admission that the transmission and acceptance of these “heinous ideas” cannot be measured.”

Dr David Hirsh, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths University of London, reviewed the marking and the formal feedback given to the student.  He wrote in his report: “One could go on discussing each of many inappropriate points made by the markers. They are inappropriate because they do not take the form of constructive feedback but of polemical engagement; and they are also inappropriate because the content of many of the points are misconceived, in particular with respect to the essay question.”

He concluded “It is not reasonable to fail this essay…. I have passed many essays which were significantly worse than this essay, this summer and every summer. I have moderated the marking of colleagues who have passed many essays this summer, and every summer, which are significantly worse than this essay. It is clear to me that for some reason the shortcomings of this essay … have been treated much more harshly than is consistent with usual practice.”

Social Media of the markers showed serious anti-Israel hostility

The markers’ attitude towards Israel was also displayed in their social media.

Dr Simon Prideaux, associate professor at Leeds University wrote “I couldn’t agree more” under a LinkedIn post by someone claiming “media outlets are controlled by Zionist sympathisers” and that the Gaza conflict “is not a conflict, this is apartheid. Say it out loud, Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing, Colonisation. Oppressors cannot clam self defence.!”

Claudia Radiven was another marker of Danielle’s essay.  Her twitter handle @claudiaradiven features Palestinian flags and hearts in Palestinian colours, and she regularly demonstrates her anti-Israel bias, for example:

  • She retweeted “Brick by Brick Wall by Wall, Elbit’s factories are starting to fall” from PalestineAction on 11.1.22. PalestineAction is a group which vandalises factories in the UK owned by the Israeli group, Elbit.

  • On 1.1.22 she tweeted: “Rampant destruction of Palestinian homes, murdering children by sniper, and open abuse of women …. the only democracy in the Middle East….apparently #SaveSheikhJarrah #FreePalestine #FreeGaza”.

Danielle tried to find out whether failing the module meant that she would not be awarded the Degree. She told several members of staff at Leeds University that she had a place to study for a Masters Degree in Sociology at Glasgow University, conditional on her graduating with a Class 2.1. However, noone at Leeds University would confirm in writing that she would receive the Degree if she did not pass the module. They told her she could re-sit the module or appeal the mark. She did both.

For the re-sit, she re-wrote the module and was given a pass mark. Leeds University has now awarded her a class 2:1 honours degree. However, since they did not confirm this in time, she was unable to take up the place at Glasgow University.

Danielle also appealed against the marking of the original essay, but the appeal committee rejected the complaint of bias without giving any reasons. However, they said that the original essay should be remarked by an external examiner chosen by Leeds University’s Sociology School, on the ground that the markers had not explained why they said it was too short.

Now Danielle is proceeding with a legal claim against the university for breaches of contract, negligence and breaches of the Equality Act, with support from UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

Danielle’s solicitor, Daniel Berke of 3D Solicitors in Manchester, who is also a director of UKLFI, said: “We consider that the marking and/or teaching of this module were negligent and in breach of the contractual term that these services would be provided with reasonable skill and care.

If the markers were right to fail the essay for not discussing alleged crimes of Israel, which we dispute, the tutor was negligent in advising the student not to discuss them.

Furthermore, by allowing the marking to be influenced by hostility towards Israel, the university discriminated because of protected characteristics of race and religion, contrary to the Equality Act.”