Baroness Foster pays damages to Muslim student over antisemitism allegations

Baroness Jacqueline Foster. PIc: UK Parliament

A pro-Israel member of the House of Lords who accused a Muslim University Challenge contestant of antisemitism has been forced to apologise and pay out substantial legal damages.

Baroness Jacqueline Foster issued the apology following tweets she made after Melika  Gorgianeh appeared on the BBC quiz show on November 20, 2023 as part of a four-person team representing Christ Church College, Oxford.

Baroness Forster singled out Ms Gorgianeh as wearing the colours of the Palestinian flag, and being responsible for the team mascot, a blue octopus, which Foster described as being the most “disgusting antisemitic symbols” and called for Ms Gorgianeh to be “expelled” by her university and “arrested” by the police.

She also tagged in the Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Ofcom, the BBC and Oxford University to her post.

But the jacket worn by Ms Gorgianeh on the show was navy blue, orange and pink (unlike the Palestinian flag), and it soon emerged that the episode was filmed some months earlier in March 2023 (before the October 7 attacks).

In November 2023, Ms Gorgianeh complained to the Commissioner of the House of Lords concerning Baroness Foster’s conduct but her complaint was not upheld.

Melika  Gorgianeh

Following this, Baroness Foster posted an apology on X on November 30, 2023 to Ms Gorgianeh. Although she apologised for making statements which were “inaccurate” and “unfounded,” and for the “distress” that she caused, there was no reference to actual allegations that she had made about Ms Gorgianeh.

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Baroness Foster further sent a letter of apology to Ms Gorgianeh on December 1, 2023. Although the letter acknowledged that the statement she had posted about Ms Gorgianeh was “completely untrue,” once again, the letter lacked any specificity as to the allegations made against Ms Gorgianeh.

However, Baroness Foster now accepts that each one of those allegations are “completely false and unfounded,” and apologises for the distress caused to Ms Gorgianeh, and confirms that she is paying her damages and legal costs.

“Following my public apology on X on 30 November 2023, and my private apology by personal letter on 1 December 2023, I wish to apologise to Ms Gorgianeh for my part in posts made about her on X on 20 November 2023, following the @BBC’s airing of the University Challenge programme,” Baroness Foster published on her X page today.

“I wrongly alleged that Ms Gorgianeh chose one of the most disgusting antisemitic symbols, a blue Octopus as her team’s mascot, which I held her responsible for. I accept that these allegations were completely false and unfounded. I made a grave mistake in making those posts and I should not have done so.

“I again deeply apologise to Ms Gorgianeh for these allegations and any distress caused to her. We have since reached an amicable resolution. I do hope this goes some way in mitigating what has been a most distressing time for her. I have agreed to pay her substantial damages and costs. FYI @ChCh_Oxford @Ofcom @10DowningStreet @JamesCleverly.”

Weaponising antisemitism

Commenting on the successful outcome, Ms Gorgianeh said: “Last November, I was falsely accused by a prominent parliamentarian of displaying an antisemitic symbol on University Challenge. I did no such thing, and I am glad that Baroness Foster has now publicly acknowledged that the allegations she made about me were completely false.

“The false allegation of antisemitism has had a profound and deeply damaging impact on my life. I was a student appearing on my favourite TV quiz show. All of a sudden, lies told about me, and only me, led to me receiving death threats and to my mental health deteriorating.

“Baroness Foster’s posts, and the posts of others who are yet to be held to account, affected both myself and my family. I felt unsafe to even leave my house. Nobody should ever have to feel how I felt or go through what I went through. Words have consequences. And now, through her apology, Baroness Fosters’ words begin to have the consequence of healing the very real damage that had been done to me.

“This vindication would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the continued efforts of my exceptional legal team at Rahman Lowe, especially Zillur Rahman, who went above and beyond in helping me. I’m extremely grateful for all their support and hard work.”

Zillur Rahman, Ms Gorgianeh’s solicitor, added: “It is obvious, but worth emphasising, that statements made by a person in a position of power, authority and respect, carry far greater weight and are liable to have a far greater impact than those made by less prominent figures.

“Baroness Foster holds a DBE, and as a lifetime peer, she is quite literally a member of the ruling class of British society. Members of the public would expect a person in her position to make serious allegations only when there is a sound basis for doing so. The very many people who read the Baroness’ post would therefore have believed that our client was antisemitic and guilty of criminally deploying Nazi propaganda.

“It is deeply disturbing that once again, we see a senior figure in UK politics, a peer of the House of Lords no less, attacking and weaponising antisemitism against a young female Muslim student in this way. Baroness Foster’s apology, and her payment of substantial damages, goes some way to healing the damage that she has caused to our client.”

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