The recent cancellation of a number of on-campus events slated to take place as part of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ (IAW) appears to presage a significant change in the way institutions are dealing with the issue.
A week-long program raising awareness of what its supporters see as ‘settler-colonialism’ in occupied Palestine, IAW activism has seen the erection of ‘Apartheid Walls’ and mock checkpoints on campuses which attempt to show students what life under occupation is like.
The reason for the cancellations differ case by case, starting at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN), which announced that an event organised as part of IAW potentially contravened a new definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the government.
A panel discussion called ‘Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine’ featuring Ben White, the event was also stated to be in breach of “university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests”.
Following this, an event called ‘Quad under Occupation’ due to take place at University College London (UCL) was reported to have been cancelled due to an administrative error by the Friends of Palestine Society.
A third event, slated to take place at the University of Exeter and feature mock Israeli checkpoints, has also been cancelled due to concerns that “it would restrict the ability of students to move freely”.
IAW’s supporters have been outraged and wrongly suggested the Government’s counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, is behind the cancellation.
It is instead more likely that institutions are reacting to a letter sent by Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, to Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, on 13th February.
Addressing the need to tackle anti-Semitism on campus and referring to the newly-adopted definition of anti-Semitism, the letter stated that higher education institutions must ensure they are “a welcoming environment for all students and that the legal position and guidelines are universally understood and acted upon at all times.”
It then went further, stating that this would “…include events such as those that might take place under the banner of “Israeli Apartheid” events for instance” and that “such events need to be properly handled…to ensure that our values, expectations and laws are not violated.”
The divisive and disruptive nature of some pro-Palestinian campaigning is something universities are increasingly aware of following a number of high profile incidents during 2016, while the number of anti-Semitic incidents on campus is claimed to have doubled between 2015 and 2016.
While it is important as many events go ahead as possible, speakers such as Farid Esack, slated to speak at King’s College London (KCL) next week, is alleged to have raised money for the militant Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), while another speaker at the event once tweeted “you Jews and your lies”.
Such events clearly lead some students to feel less welcome on campus, and at least one recent KCL graduate has written to the college to complain of the “free reign [sic]” being given to extremism in relation to this event.
With such concerns being raised, it is no surprise that a number of institutions are likely to be taking the obligations highlighted by Jo Johnson very seriously, and we may well see more events cancelled in future unless the organisers work harder to ensure free and balanced debate can take place in an atmosphere free of intimidation.