The minister seems to have “no-platforming” by student unions in his sights. However, there is a major free-speech failure by the universities themselves that is easier to fix. For some years now universities, not the student unions, have been routinely obstructing campus events that focus on Palestinian rights and their denial by Israel. The government’s own adoption of the discredited IHRA definition of antisemitism a year ago has fuelled this, with play-safe administrations seemingly unclear about the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. It was Jo Johnson himself who instructed Universities UK to send this definition round to all universities – with a pointed suggestion that they adopt it for internal use. No single act in recent years has been less helpful to free speech in universities. Continue reading “Jo Johnson – Free Speech on everything except Israel”
Free Speech on Israel
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
This dossier records some of the more prominent cases of restriction of freedom of speech or assembly related to criticisms of the state of Israel that occurred during 2017. In some cases the document produced in May 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a definition of antisemitism, and adopted by the UK government in December of that year, is explicitly cited in support of the action taken. In all cases the awareness of that government action has provided the pervasive atmosphere, chilling to free speech on Israel/Palestine, in which these decisions were taken.
The IHRA definition has been used to press for and achieve the cancellation of events denouncing Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and violations of human rights. The use of the IHRA definition in such instances is commonly framed around the following narrative: “These events typically apply double standards towards Israel that are not applied to other countries and effectively deny Israel any right to exist by treating it as an inherently racist endeavour. As such, they conflict with the IHRA definition.” (quote from spokesman for UK Lawyers for Israel – UKLFI).
In the UK, student events organised on campuses have been particularly targeted, following a letter sent by the Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson to UK universities in February 2017 to outline the government’s concerns about antisemitism on campuses, especially around Israel Apartheid Week due to take place that month, and asking for the IHRA definition to be disseminated throughout the academic system.
… without mentioning Jew, Israel, Zionism or any accepted or abusive synonym for any of these. Difficult, you might think, but according to Gillian Merron, the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, leading Palestinian film maker Larissa Sansour has achieved this.
How a Zionist campaign of distortions stopped audiences hearing Tom Suarez speak about his book State of Terror
Note: In late 2016, my work State of Terror : how terrorism created modern Israel was published in hardcover in the UK (Skyscraper Books) and paperback in the US (Interlink). This book was the culmination of several years’ research based primarily on British government source documents held by the National Archives (Kew), relating to Palestine during the four decades between the Balfour Declaration (1917) and the Suez Crisis (1956).
Book talks that were affected
1. SOAS (3 Nov)
My first publicised book talk was to students at SOAS. This was sabotaged by a handful of non-student outsiders, principally by well-known activists Jonathan Hoffman and, less flamboyantly, David Collier. Security was called, but Mr. Hoffman yelled “assault” when he was approached by a guard (who had done nothing), at which security declined to intervene. The student organisers were unable to control the situation and the Q&A was soon abandoned. The saboteurs had recorded the talk and uploaded out-of-context video snippets, labelling me as an anti-Semitic hate speaker.
A few weeks ago my book Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace was published by Pluto in Britain. I was in London and Scotland at the time to do a series of university talks to help launch the book. Its appearance happened to coincide with the release of a jointly authored report commissioned by the UN Social and Economic Commission of West Asia, giving my appearances a prominence they would not otherwise have had. The report concluded that
the evidence relating to Israeli practices toward the Palestinian people amounted to ‘apartheid,’ as defined in international law.
There was a strong pushback by Zionist militants threatening disruption. These threats were sufficiently intimidating to academic administrators, that my talks at the University of East London and at Middlesex University were cancelled on grounds of ‘health and security.’ Perhaps, these administrative decisions partly reflected the awareness that an earlier talk of mine at LSE had indeed been sufficiently disrupted during the discussion period that university security personnel had to remove two persons in the audience who shouted epithets, unfurled an Israeli flag, stood up and refused to sit down when politely asked by the moderator. Continue reading “Israel’s New Cultural War of Aggression”
Jackie Walker was due to speak at a Scottish PSC meeting at St Columba’s by the Castle Church in Edinburgh on 20 March. One Edinburgh Jew claimed to the Church Rector that the meeting might have antisemitic connotations. The Rector amplified this claim into “criticism of Israel’s policies can have unintended consequences, leading to an increase in anti-Semitic attacks” and the Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh, John Armes, told him to cancel the Booking. FSOI has written to the Bishop to add our voice to that of Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes and local activists in deploring this censorship and silencing of criticism of Israel.
The FSOI letter
Dear Bishop Armes,
We are aware of the controversy surrounding your decision to prevent a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) event from taking place at St Columba’s Church on March 20.
As a Jewish-led organisation which abhors all forms of racism and supports the right of the Palestinian people to live their lives free from discrimination, we would welcome the opportunity to open a dialogue with you about this fraught subject. Continue reading “FSOI protests Scottish church cancellation”
The campaign by FSOI and others has been successful and PSC released the following statement:
As most of you will be aware, two weeks ago the New Statesman removed an article by Salah Arjama from its website. PSC had commissioned the article from Salah, the co-founder and Director of the Lajee Cultural Centre in Aida Refugee camp to be hosted on the New Statesman website. The New Statesman published the piece as part of a two year partnership between the PSC and the New Statesman.
The removal of the article followed two pro-Israel websites attacking the article which raised concerns about the New Statesman having responded to this lobby pressure. PSC sought a clear explanation from the New Statesman as to the reason for the removal of the article but did not receive it. As the issue was in the public domain, we were left with no option but to publicly petition the New Statesman. Thanks to your response, the New Statesman was inundated with 25,000 emails. Several notable figures, including lawyers, politicians, trade unions and artists, also committed to signing an open letter. After the very large number of complaints the New Statesman received, and after we informed them of the forthcoming open letter, they requested to meet with the PSC.
We are pleased to announce that after discussions we have received an explanation from the New Statesman who have framed the removal in a wider context of reviewing all their commercial partnerships from a wider editorial perspective. We are pleased that the New Statesman have acknowledged the discourtesy done by not providing an explanation when requested.
The New Statesman have reassured us that the article was not removed because of lobby pressure, acknowledged that they had no issue with the contents of the article and have now most importantly provided a link to the article on their website, ensuring that readers can still access Salah’s words and perspective. We feel this outcome gives a clear message that any pressure to remove Palestinian voices from the media will be resisted. They have also given a commitment to ensuring that their coverage of Palestine will continue to include a range of perspectives.
The issues raised in Salah’s article which can be read here are of crucial importance. PSC believes it is essential that the voices of Palestinians facing injustice and the denial of their rights are heard in wider media coverage. Although we will have no continuing commercial partnership, we look forward to continuing our wider relationship with the New Statesman to ensure that Palestinian voices and perspectives from all sections of society are heard.
We could not have done this without you, and is fantastic news for all that are concerned with the representation of Palestinian experiences in the press.
Statement from Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Palestinian voices are being censored and silenced. We cannot let this happen.
Earlier this month PSC commissioned an article from Salah Ajarma, the co-founder and Director of the Lajee Cultural Centre in Aida Refugee camp. The New Statesman published the piece as part of a two year partnership between the PSC and the New Statesman. Two pro-Israel blogs attacked the New Statesman for publishing the piece, shortly afterwards, the New Statesman deleted it without speaking to Salah or to PSC. They have since refused to offer any explanation or justification for the removal of the article.
This is a disgraceful attack on freedom of expression, a clear case of censorship, and a deliberate attempt to silence Palestinian voices. By doing this, the New Statesman have politically censored a human rights campaigner, who is living under very harsh conditions of military occupation in a refugee camp. We cannot stand by and let this happen. We cannot be silenced.
It would appear the New Statesman have caved into political pressure to remove the article, and do not believe they owe Salah or PSC the courtesy even of a conversation: the editorial team won’t even take our phone calls. In an email to the PSC, the New Statesman stated that the article had been removed as a result of ‘reader complaints’, refusing any further elaboration and any editorial contact.
Salah’s article describes the experiences of young Palestinian refugees in Aida camp and talks about how settlements impact his life and the lives of people in his community. New Statesman editors approved and published the article.
This action does not align with the stated goals of the New Statesman to “hold our leaders to account and tell the stories that the world needs to hear”. What is happening in Palestine is a story that the world needs to hear, and the account of a Palestinian should not be censored. The lack of explanation and refusal to speak to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or Salah goes against all good journalistic standards and common courtesy
We did not want to make this public, we attempted to resolve the problem directly with the New Statesman, giving them the benefit of the doubt and attempting to speak to editors countless times.
However, we have now been told that the editors will not speak to us and that the decision to remove the article would not be explained or reversed.
We have a duty to stand up for justice, honesty, and integrity and so we must raise our voices about this.
Tell the New Statesman to:
Republish the article
Offer an apology to Salah Ajarma for removing it without good cause
Make a clear public statement as to your commitment to upholding the principle of freedom of expression