Paulin was due to read at the Ivy League university last Thursday, but the event was cancelled by the English department after accounts of him comparing American Jews who settle in Israel to Nazis were circulated by student groups.
However, the university’s statement about the cancellation suggested that Paulin had agreed to it.
Lawrence Buell, chair of the English department, issued the following statement: “By mutual consent of the poet and the English department, the Morris Gray poetry reading by Tom Paulin, originally scheduled for Thursday, November 14, will not take place. The English department sincerely regrets the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result of this invitation, which had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin’s lifetime accomplishments as a poet.”
Paulin, who holds a chair of English at Oxford University, is teaching a course at Columbia University in New York this semester, and is a well-known controversial critic on British television.
In April he was quoted in the Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram Weekly as saying American Jewish settlers should be “shot dead.”
“I think they are Nazis, racists,” he said. “I feel nothing but hatred for them.” He also said that settlers on the West Bank from Brooklyn should be shot.
Paulin was born in Leeds and grew up an Ulster Protestant in Belfast and County Antrim. He holds strong Irish republican views.
On a television arts and literature show called “Late Review” in the UK, he has established himself as a sometimes vicious critic of arts and literature that he deems to be failures.
Recently, while discussing the two movies made about Bloody Sunday, he said that the British paratroopers who killed 13 civil rights protesters were “thugs sent in by public schoolboys to kill innocent Irish people. They were rotten, racist bastards.”
In one of his poems, called “Killed in the Crossfire,” Paulin wrote: “As another little Palestinian boy / In trainers jeans and a white teeshirt / Is gunned down by the Zionist SS.”
After he made the comments about Jewish settlers to Al-Ahram, he defended himself, saying that he did not condone attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers.
Paulin was not available for comment at press time. But a Columbia University colleague, Jim Shapiro, told newspapers that Harvard’s actions were “disastrous.”
“I say this as somebody who is a Zionist, who teaches Jewish studies, who has opposed petitions on my campus for the university to divest from Israel,” Shapiro said. “The idea of rescinding an invitation because someone has not passed a political litmus test establishes a very dangerous precedent.”