Yiddish row simmers

January 9, 1998

A LEADING Jewish scholar, who dropped claims of racist abuse from his former employers at an industrial tribunal this week, says he is still considering legal action against them.

Dovid Katz abandoned allegations of constructive dismissal and racial discrimination against the Oxford Institute for Yiddish Studies and its director of policy Marie Wright, who he claimed was his lover.

Both Mrs Wright and the institute vehemently deny the allegations and considered action for defamation but, given the institute's charitable status, decided they could not justify spending any more money.

Dr Katz said he was taking advice on whether to pursue his complaints outside an industrial tribunal. "My friends are concerned that I spent all this money without getting my day in court," he said.

Mrs Wright, who denies she ever had an intimate relationship with Dr Katz, said she had had no proper opportunity to refute his claims. "I have devoted the last decade of my life to Yiddish and working for the Jewish community and nobody who knows me would believe that I am a racist," she said.

Dr Katz, 41, set up the institute with Mrs Wright in 1995 following a dispute with the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies over the financial management of Yiddish studies.

He resigned from the institute last January, alleging there was a campaign to remove him, which he claimed included Mrs Wright subjecting him to anti-semitic remarks. On the first day of the tribunal he said these remarks included: "I'm sick and tired of the ****ing Jews. The Holocaust happened because you're all so bloody arrogant." He intended to call Dr Dov-Ber Kerler, a former trustee of the institute, as a witness to support his case.

Dr Katz claims he was ousted as part of a "plot" to replace Yiddish with film studies.

But he abandoned the case at an industrial tribunal this week because it appeared he had not completed the two years service necessary before bringing a case of constructive dismissal. He also dropped the allegations of racial discrimination, for which there is no qualifying time.

Dr Katz said he had chosen to drop the racism allegations because he did not want the case to get personal and because he had run out of money. "I never believed Mrs Wright to be a racist," he said. "I felt the invective was part of the campaign to force my departure."

After more than 18 years as a Yiddish scholar in Oxford he said he was now facing bankruptcy, making ends meet by freelance work.

"I'm just an unemployed poor Yiddish writer in the hills of North Wales," he said.

But a spokesman for the institute said: "Although the institute has been vindicated in its defence of these proceedings it remains aggrieved by the fact that Dr Katz took the opportunity of making a series of insulting, damaging and untrue allegations ... but withdrew before the institute or the employee concerned had an opportunity to be heard."

She said the institute now hoped for a peaceful end to the matter.

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