Under pressure UK universities cancel Richard Falk event

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk on 21 March 2017 [Jehan AlFarra/Middle East Monitor]

Former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk on 20 March 2017 [Jehan AlFarra/Middle East Monitor]

Two British universities have cancelled events planned for the launch of former UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk’s new book.

The professor of international law was scheduled to speak today about his new book, “Palestine’s Horizon”, in Middlesex University. But the London based university followed a decision by the University of East London yesterday to pull the event at the last minute.

MEMO hosts an event to launch Former United Nations Special Rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk's new book in London, UK, on 20 March 2017 [Jehan AlFarra/Middle East Monitor]

Since the cancellation, a pro-Israeli activist group based in the UK has confirmed that the events were pulled following their “intervention”.

Both events had been advertised on the universities’ events pages. East London University cancelled the talk, saying it took “the difficult decision” because “it became clear, the day before the event, that the University’s External Speakers Policy had not been adequately followed”.

The spokesman for East London denied that this was an attack on free speech and told MEMO: “We strongly believe that universities should be a place of debate and free speech. We would consider welcoming Professor Falk to our campus on another occasion if the appropriate policies and procedures were followed.”

Middlesex University press officer told MEMO that “concerns over safety” prompted the decision to cancel the event, while also confirming that the event could be held in the future if safety concerns were met.

While both universities cited logistic and procedural concerns as reasons for cancelling the talk, Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which claims to be a “volunteer-led charity dedicated to exposing and countering antisemitism through the enforcement of the law” issued a statement announcing that their “intervention” forced the university to cancel the speech.

CAA, which was set up in 2014 following the Israeli bombardment of Gaza to counter the rise of criticism against Israel, said: “The University had insisted the event would take place, but following intervention by Campaign Against Antisemitism, the university has now decided to cancel the event.”

Falk was the co-author of a new UN report which concludes that “beyond a reasonable doubt … Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people”.

Read: Richard Falk: People must shame UN for quashing ‘apartheid Israel’ report

Speaking at a MEMO event on Monday, Falk said the language around Israel’s occupation of Palestine must change, if Israel’s claim to the land is to be seriously challenged and in order to move towards a more meaningful peace process. Rather than an “occupation”, which he views as an inaccurate term partly due to the length of time that Israel has now held on to the territories conquered in the 1967 war, he affirmed that instead Israel should now be called an “apartheid state”.

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinian protesters during a protest after Israeli soldiers shot Palestinian who allegedly attempted knife attack in Hebron, West Bank on September 19, 2016 [file photo]Dr Daud Abdullah “


Concerns about academic freedom as Israeli Apartheid Week comes under pressure

Israeli Apartheid Week UK poster

Israeli Apartheid Week UK poster

The student-led events of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will be held worldwide between 27 February and 3 March. This is the 13th year of campus-centred IAW programmes. In Britain, though, they are under pressure following the government’s adoption of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes criticism of the state of Israel.

Israeli Apartheid Week is remembered with particular dedication in South Africa, which suffered for decades under an Apartheid government, with its institutionalised racism and brutality. On 7 March, the Deputy Secretary General of South Africa’s governing African National Congress, Jessie Duarte, will lecture at an IAW event in Klerksdorp, such is the desire to see apartheid in all of its guises brought to an end.

Read: Previously cancelled conference on Israel to go ahead in Ireland

This year, the week holds special significance, says IAW’s website, with the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, whereby the British government promised to help with the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This was reflected by the title of the topic under discussion at the opening plenary of IAW 2017 hosted by the Action Palestine Society at King’s College London on 28 February: “100 years of Palestinian resistance against settler colonialism”. The panel discussion included talks by veteran of the anti-Apartheid struggle, Black Lives Matter and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Britain’s adoption of a new definition for anti-Semitism, say observers, has been exploited to silence students in universities across the country from discussing the situation in Palestine-Israel and voicing criticism of Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson MP, has written to the universities to warn against the global activities of Israeli Apartheid Week, limiting further the space for students to organise and campaign freely under the IAW banner.

Read: Do black lives matter less in Lancashire than in Apartheid Israel?

His letter has had an immediate impact. Last week, the University of Central Lancashire imposed a ban on a meeting where pro-Palestine journalist Ben White and other academics were scheduled to speak. According to the university, the meeting on “Debunking misconceptions on Palestine” would have contravened the recently endorsed definition of anti-Semitism.

A recent letter signed by dozens of professors and lecturers across Britain expressed dismay at what they believe are “attacks on academic freedom” and “explicit political interference in university affairs” by the government. They are concerned that the new anti-Semitism definition can be read as “extending to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.”

The President of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, admitted the difficulty in maintaining a balanced atmosphere for students to practice their right to free speech on campus. “This is particularly relevant when Israel and Palestine are being discussed,” she told the Guardian.

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