Pro-Palestinian student activists claim freedom of speech at universities is under threat after they were banned from championing Palestinian human rights on campus.
The University of Exeter and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have reportedly canceled events to mark Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which is held every year to raise awareness about Palestinian human rights.
University College London also canceled an event after organizers reportedly failed to provide plans to be approved in advance.
The events, organized by student unions, were called off just 48 hours before they were due to take place because of “security and safety reasons,” the Guardian reports.
In response, 250 academics signed a letter criticizing University Minister Jo Johnson for demanding Universities UK, the organization overseeing higher education, crackdown on anti-Semitism.
Exeter students were banned from staging a theater performance called ‘Mock Checkpoint’, depicting Israeli soldiers confronting Palestinians.
A spokesperson for Exeter’s Friends of Palestine Society condemned the silencing of discussion around Israel and said: “They are not allowing freedom of speech – by canceling an event that was in support of Palestinian activism and for Palestinian rights, they are directly censoring us,” as cited by the newspaper.
However, an Exeter University spokesman said the institution was not only “committed to free speech within the law,” but also open to “legitimate protests.”
“In keeping with guidance from Universities UK, the representative organization of UK universities, we believe that if protests take place on campus, consideration must be given to the location and prominence of planned events and their impact on the staff and student body, as well as the need to ensure that they do not restrict the ability of the campus community to move freely.”
He also claimed that while Mock Checkpoint had been banned, other events run by Friends of Palestine would still be taking place in a “safe and inclusive environment,” the Guardian reported.
The cancelation of pro-Palestinian events comes after the University was caught up in a row over anti-Semitism earlier this month when a swastika and a ‘Rights for Whites’ notice were found in student accommodation.
But IAW organizers claim the university is confusing the championing of rights with anti-Semitism.
“We feel they were indirectly accusing us of antisemitism and discrimination and harassment through this event,” said a spokesman for the Friends of Palestine at Exeter.
UCLan has also canceled an event entitled ‘Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine and the Importance of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions’.
An initial statement by the university claims the event contravenes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s new definition of anti-Semitism.
A later statement to the Guardian, though, claims the event, organized by the same Friends of Palestine, was canceled because authorities did not have a chance to review the event and approve it in time.
“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,” UCLan’s student union president Sana Iqbal said.
“Free speech on campus is an important principle we will stand up for.”