Sajid Javid’s comments on Israeli sponsorship ‘breached the principle of an arms-length relationship between the government and the arts’, writes Caryl Churchill – UK playwright, and Artists’ Pledge signatory.
Two letters defending academic and artistic freedom from bullying and censorship by the Israel lobby were published in the Guardian, Monday 6 April 2015
• In late March we had culture secretary Sajid Javid’s astonishing statement in a speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews (reported in Jewish News) that any arts organisations refusing Israeli sponsorship will risk losing funding, breaching the long-established principle of an arms-length relationship between government and the arts. The Arts Council is supposed to be a buffer between them precisely to avoid political censorship and bullying. Now we have news (1 April) of the cancellation of the University of Southampton’s conference on international law and the state of Israel after protests from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation UK. All Charlie Hebdo? Except when freedom of expression means freedom to criticise Israel.
• We note with regret that the University of Southampton has shamefully capitulated to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby and cancelled an international academic conference. The university claims to have acted on police advice that they cannot guarantee security against threatened demonstrations. Where was the threat to public order? How could a conference, predominantly of lawyers discussing complex legal issues concerning the legal status of Israel and its boundaries, be a threat? Or are we to conclude that pro-Israeli demonstrators are such violent opponents of academic freedom that the police cannot contain them?
Prof Hilary Rose, Prof Steven Rose