The End of Free Speech for Palestine Campaigners
Universities have historically provided safe spaces for diversity of views, intellectual growth and freedom of thought and speech. These cherished freedoms are now increasingly coming under threat, with terms of engagement being dictated by those with vested interests in controlling debates within acceptable parameters. Any discussion or debate concerning Palestine has faced the most striking limitations on free speech, with accusations of extremism being abound for anyone supporting the Free Palestine campaign.
All major UK universities regularly host events which encourage critical engagement with global political discourses, and the issue of Palestine is no exception. However, any Palestine campaigner will tell you that the climate has changed. Now, the word ‘Palestine’ brings with it a whole host of obstacles which university management, coerced by political motivations, place in the way. Under the guise of preventing extremist speakers on to campuses, instead there is an absolute curtailment being placed in any discourse which is critical of Israel. This same limitation is not imposed on pro-Israel events.
Recently, the Jewish Chronicle published an article in which it identified so called ‘controversial’ speakers at UK universities. The article was based on a recently published report by the ‘Student Rights’ group. It included a list of so called “extremist speakers” who had been hosted by various universities, with a clear aim of subverting any further talks by these people at UK universities.
So who are Student Rights, and what is their interest in this issue? A little research reveals that they are less than independent and impartial and are a group set up with a very sinister aim. Rupert Sutton, its Director, is also part of the Henry Jackson Society, which has been castigated for pushing an anti-Muslim agenda. A report published last year by the Cordoba Foundation exposed the Henry Jackson Society’s activities in pushing for liberal interventionism abroad, spreading Islamophobia and its staunch support for the “war on terror”. Thus, the report by Student Rights was anything but impartial, and wholly intended to limit free speech on university campuses by Muslim speakers.
FOA response to the Jewish Chronicle
The JC published a list of so called extremist speakers, which included Ismail Patel, Chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa. Scrutiny of the allegations made against Ismail Patel scarcely stand to attention and reveal the weak and feeble premise of the accusations. These beg the question of why he is then being singled out? Clearly, his freedom of speech needs to be limited less his success in bringing attention of the injustices occurring in Palestine to the UK student population should continue in the future.
The particular allegations and FOA’s responses can be found below:
First: The Jewish Chronicle describes Raed Salah as a “supporter of blood libel” and lists Ismail Patel as a support of the ‘Blood libel cleric’. This is deliberately misleading. Salah was falsely accused and cleared his name in the UK courts before returning to Israel. By linking Patel’s name to blood libel and Raed Salah in the same sentence, there is a clear effort to mislead the public into believing that he supports extremists. This is in the least grossly negligent of the JC writer, or in the worst, a deliberate attempts to mislead readers.
Second: Friends of Al Aqsa (FOA) has published work by Paul Eisen in the Al Aqsa journal, 6(2) published in April 2001. The article by Eisen focused on Deir Yassin, the massacre of Palestinian civilians by Zionist militia. Claims were made in 2007 that Paul Eisen is a Holocaust denier, however, he has never conveyed any such message directly to FOA either when he wrote the article or anytime since then. FOA cannot and should not be held responsible for the views that may, at some future date (In this case over 6 years later!), be held by any and every person who submits articles for publication.
Similarly, FOA published work by Gilad Atzmon in the Al Aqsa journal, 8(1) in Autumn 2005. The article was on the ‘The Third Category and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement’ and was written before he was accused of being an anti-Semite. Interestingly, both of these writers are of course Jewish, as are a number of writers who have submitted work to FOA over the years.
As an organisation promoting dialogue, FOA publishes many articles and stories written by other prominent Jewish people, which include but are not limited to:
Born in Berlin, Hanna escaped Nazi Germany but one of her grandmothers was captured and died in the Terezin–Theresienstadt death camp. She became a member of the Haganah, the Israeli armed forces who overran Palestine in 1948 and established the State of Israel. She moved to Britain in late 1950s.
Director of Holocaust Studies at Leicester University
An obstetrician/gynecologist, activist, author and co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace,
Richard Kuper is chair and publications officer of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, an organisation bringing together more than 1,300 Jews in Britain.
Ran HaCohen teaches in the Tel-Aviv University’s Department of Comparative Literature.
Finally: Ismail Patel’s reference to Hamas was made during the bombing of Gaza by Israel in 2009, at a protest rally in London. Israel’s violent attack on the Gaza Strip claimed the lives of 1,391 Palestinians. Shortly after, human rights group Amnesty International published a report entitled ‘Israel / Gaza Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction’ outlining Israel’s indiscriminate attacks and war crimes committed on Palestinians including its illegal use of white phosphorus. The statement was made at a time when the international community was openly condemning Israel’s use of force on the residents of the Gaza Strip, and Hamas was defending THE CIVILIAN POPULATION OF Gazan’s from THE INDISCRIMINATE ISRAELI attackS. While Hamas’ wider strategies and actions come under question, the context of this quote was a time during which all Palestinians including Hamas were coming under brutal attack.
No Legitimate Criticism of Israel
Israeli crimes against Palestinians continues unabated. In 2015, executions of Palestinians accused of crimes became the norm. Men and women, young and old, all face the threat of imprisonment or death under the least provocative of guises. These brutal executions are ignored by those who seek to keep ‘extremism’ off UK campuses. It is clear and apparent that the agenda being promoted is ‘Israel shall not be criticised’.
There is a concerted effort to draw attention away from Israel’s continuous abuse of international law and human rights. The most successful method is to accuse those who support the Free Palestine campaign of being extremists.
Pro-Palestinian discourse is taking place amongst students privately at university campuses across the UK. Instead of using this as an opportunity for debate and discussion to be open and transparent, those who support Israel and it’s murderous policies are trying to shut the discussion down – a clear admission that they cannot win the debate.
“FOA disavows racism and any form of anti-Semitism in our work. Instead we seek to promote human rights in Palestine through the use of a range of democratic means. Unfortunately, this should go without saying, however, it becomes necessary to defend ourselves due to the rise in Islamophobic rhetoric and attempts to block pro-Palestinian discourse in the mainstream. We will continue our work to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians” – FOA