Zionists on and off UK campuses have repeated their annual attempts to disrupt student organised events in Israeli Apartheid Week. This year they have been encouraged by Government Minister Jo Johnson who wrote to the Universities’ coordinating body, UUK, to say
I am sure you share my concerns about the rising reports of anti-Semitic incidents in this country and will want to make sure that your own institution is a welcoming environment for all students and that the legal position and guidelines are universally understood and acted upon at all times. This will include events such as those that might take place under the banner of ‘Israel Apartheid’ events for instance. Such events need to be properly handled by higher education institutions to ensure that our values, expectations and laws are not violated.
The leaders of most universities ignored this attack on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom and did not interfere with their students’ right to express their support for Human Rights. A few, however, decided to forget their duty in their rush to placate the Government and to succumb to Zionist threats. IAW events took place on most campuses and the campaign against drawing attention to Israel’s crimes only succeeded in causing many students to ask what Israel’s defenders were so keen to keep hidden.
The University of Central Lancashire cancelled an event due to be held on 21 February entitled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine and the Importance of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions”, organised by the university’s Friends of Palestine Society. The principal speaker was to be Ben White, a well-known freelance journalist who has broken many stories on Israeli misdeeds. Ben is frequently attacked as an ‘antisemite’ by zealous Zionist activists. The event went ahead, off campus, at the premises of a local voluntary organisation.
An initial statement from the university said the event would contravene the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of what constitutes antisemitism and would therefore be unlawful.
A later statement to the Guardian offered a different justification – that the event had not been referred to the authorities in a timely way and therefore could not go ahead. “The content of the event has now been thoroughly reviewed and we are now working with the student society to enable such events to take place, following due process and providing that they are properly managed so that no one in our university community is made to feel unsafe.”
The university’s student union president, Sana Iqbal, said: “The union supports free speech within the law and hopes that an event that deals with the issues about which this group of students cares very deeply will be able to go ahead in the future. Free speech on campus is an important principle we will stand up for.”
Exeter Friends of Palestine Society were furious after the university banned students from staging a street theatre performance called Mock Checkpoint, in which some participants were to dress up as Israeli soldiers while others performed the roles of Palestinians.
The event, which had been approved by the students’ guild – the university’s student union – was banned for “safety and security reasons” less than 48 hours before it was due to take place despite having been given clearance by the experienced Guild Health and Safety Manager. An appeal against the decision was refused.
The enactment was to take place in a large open area, outside the Great Hall, where free passage would not have been disrupted. Indeed, plays have been performed there. When denied this space, the students replied that they would not object to being moved to a different location. This offer was, astonishingly, refused by the Provost: ‘as the event is to engage with students and staff, it will potentially affect any access, regardless of location.’
One talk and a film show proceeded without problems at Leeds but two other events had more difficulty.
Former ambassador Craig Murray was asked to provide details of what he was going to say in his talk “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution”. just 24 hours before he was due to speak by the trustees of Leeds University Union. With great reluctance Craig provided an outline in order to allow the lecture to proceed despite seeing this a dispiriting step down a censorship path.
The student Palestine Solidarity Group was refused permission to mount visual demonstration outside the Leeds Student Union Building, although they did put up a fairly inconspicuous banner display. They were also refused permission to have a stall inside the Students Union Building.
In the Conference Hall or on the Pavement – Craig Murray
Professor Michael Lavalette of Liverpool Hope University as a speaker at a meeting at Liverpool University. At 3pm the day before his scheduled talk he was contacted by the student organisers to say that the university was requiring him to sign their ‘risk assessment’ for the event. The form of words was to be that he had read the Risk Assessment and specifically the clause within iterating to the ‘[IHRA] definition’, and that he had read the definition and agreed with it. He emailed his response , to say that he had read the risk assessment; and that he was a life-long anti-racist (and had in fact organised a meeting on Stand Up To Racism the previous weekend). He did not acknowledge the definition. He heard nothing more and the meeting went ahead.
The University of Manchester allowed series of talks marking IAW to go ahead, but that approval only came after several meetings and email exchanges and subject to a strict set of conditions.
“The university has heavily scrutinised every single detail of each event … the number of conditions the university has placed on us is unheard of,” reported the organisers, adding: “Other societies and groups do not face the same problems.” The conditions relate to the impartiality of event conveners and scrutiny of speakers.
The university vetoed the students’ choice of academic to chair an IAW event on BDS, citing concerns over her “neutrality”. Speakers also had to acknowledge the British government-endorsed definition of anti-Semitism.” The person ousted from chairing t was Dr Lauren Banko, Research Associate in Israel-Palestine Studies in the Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies department of the University. She is author of “The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918-1947