Immediate Threat to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Pictured: Jo Johnson MP, minister for Universities, suggested they seek to ban Israel Apartheid Week

On February 27, a letter signed by 243 academics appeared in the Guardian (copied below) condemning “outrageous interferences with free expression” and “direct attacks on academic freedom” resulting from attempts “to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years.”

The letter attributed these developments to adoption by the UK government of “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism” which is being interpreted as meaning that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is prima facie evidence of antisemitism.

New names are pouring in to be added to the list of signatories to the academics’ letter. If you would like to join them please read the statement below. The full text of the letter follows below the introduction.

Introductory statement by Tom Hickey, University of Brighton 01.03.2017

You may have heard of the multiple attempts this week to close down debate on campuses over the Israel/Palestine issue. You may also have heard of the Government’s adoption late last year of the ‘definition’ of antisemitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It is this definition that is being used to prevent campus meetings taking place that are critical of Israel, and supportive of the Palestinians.

The proposed definition is deeply flawed, conflating as it does criticism of Israel and antisemitism. It has been sent by the HE Minister, Jo Johnson, to Universities UK with the request that it be disseminated to all universities, and with the suggestion that the universities seek to ban events in Israel Apartheid Week.

The results of this intervention are accumulating. One university banned a student group meeting with an outside and academic speakers, on the grounds that its topic (‘Debunking misconceptions on Palestine’) was ‘not lawful’ because of the definition. In another case a visiting academic speaker was told by the university that he would only get permission to speak if he signed off his acceptance of the IHRA definition of antisemitism – which he regards as profoundly flawed.

These developments have to be seen in the context of the recent revelation in a TV documentary of the attempt by Israeli Embassy staff in London to subvert the political process by encouraging and facilitating attacks on politicians (including one current Government minister) for their past or current criticisms of Israel. This compounds the difficulties of organizing resistance to the increased incidence of real antisemitism that has become obvious with the rise of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, and the election of President Trump.

What we are seeing is an unprecedented interference with free speech and academic freedom in UK universities. If this infringement is not successfully opposed it will undoubtedly turn out to be the first but not the last erosion of freedom of speech and expression on campuses.

People can and do have a range of views on this flashpoint in the Middle East. Yet there should surely be no two views about the importance of defending the right to free expression in our institutions. It is in this spirit that we invite you to add your name to this letter that appeared in The Guardian on 28thFebruary over the names of 243 university staff (copied below).

If you hold a UK academic post and believe

  • that open debate on campuses over the future of Israel/Palestine should not be prevented by Government, and 
  • that criticism of Israel is not ipso factoantisemitic, 

then please add your name to the hundreds that are registering their solidarity with academic freedom.

If this embedded link does not work because it is blocked by your server please paste https://is.gd/AcademicFreedom into a new window on your browser.

Mike Cushman, Tom Hickey, Jonathan Rosenhead.

THE LETTER AND SIGNATORIES:

The Guardian, 28 February 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/feb/27/university-wrong-to-ban-israeli-apartheid-week-event

Free speech on Israel under attack at universities

The spike in far-right antisemitic incidents on UK campuses that you report (UK universities urged to act over spate of antisemitic stickers and graffiti, 18 February) seems to reflect the increase in xenophobia since the Brexit vote.

 Yet the government has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which can be and is being read as extending to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights, an entirely separate issue, as prima facie evidence of antisemitism. This definition seeks to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Now Jo Johnson, the government minister whose brief includes universities, has written to Universities UK asking for this definition to be disseminated throughout the system. His letter specifically mentions Israel Apartheid Week (a worldwide activity at this time of year since 2005) as a cause for concern.

The response has been swift. Late last week, in haste and clearly without legal advice, the University of Central Lancashire banned a meeting that was to be addressed by journalist Ben White, as well as by academics. The University statement asserted that the meeting on Debunking misconceptions on Palestinecontravened the definition of antisemitism recently adopted by the government, and would therefore not be lawful.

Meanwhile, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a body set up during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, cites this definition in asking its supporters to record, film, photograph and get witness evidence about Israeli Apartheid Week events; and we will help you to take it up with the university, students union or even the police.

These are outrageous interferences with free expression, and are direct attacks on academic freedom. As academics with positions at UK universities, we wish to express our dismay at this attempt to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years. It is with disbelief that we witness explicit political interference in university affairs in the interests of Israel, under the thin disguise of concern about antisemitism.

Signatories at point of publication:
Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, Prof Conor Gearty, Prof Malcolm Levitt, Tom Hickey, Prof Dorothy Griffiths, Prof Moshé Machover, Sir Iain Chalmers, Prof Steven Rose, Prof Gilbert Achcar, Prof Penny Green, Prof Bill Bowring, Mike Cushman, Jim Zacune, Dr Jethro Butler, Dr Rashmi Varma, Dr John Moore, Dr Nour Ali, Prof Richard Hudson, Dr Tony Whelan, Dr Dina Matar, Prof Marian Hobson, Prof Tony Sudbery, Prof John Weeks, Prof Graham Dunn, Dr Toni Wright, Dr Rinella Cere, Prof Ian Parker, Dr Marina Carter, Dr Shirin M Rai, Andy Wynne, Prof David Pegg, Prof Erica Burman, Dr Nicola Pratt, Prof Joanna Bornat, Prof Richard Seaford, Dr Linda Milbourne, Dr Julian Saurin, Dr Nadia Naser-Najjab, Prof Elizabeth Dore, Prof Colin Eden, Dr Neil Davidson, Jaime Peschiera, Catherine Cobham, Prof Haim Bresheeth, Dr Uriel Orlow, Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia, Dr Abdul B Shaikh, Dr Mark Leopold, Prof Michael Donmall, Prof Hamish Cunningham, Prof David Johnson, Dr Reem Abou-El-Fadl, Dr Luke Cooper, Prof Peter Gurney, Dr Adi Kuntsman, Prof Matthew Beaumont, Dr Teodora Todorova, Prof Natalie Fenton, Prof Richard Bornat, Dr Jeremy Landor, Dr John Chalcraft, Milly Williamson, David Mabb, Dr Judit Druks, Dr Charlie McGuire, Dr Gholam Khiabany, Glynn Kirkham, Dr Deirdre O’Neill, Dr Gavin Williams, Prof Marsha Rosengarten, Dr Debra Benita Shaw, Dr João Florêncio, Prof Stephen Keen, Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Dr Thomas Mills, Dr Don Crewe, Prof Robert Wintemute, Andy Gossett, Prof Mark Boylan, Angela Mansi, Dr Paul Taylor, Tim Martin, Keith Hammond, Karolin Hijazi, Dr Kevin Hearty, Prof Daniel Katz, Dr Richard Pitt, Prof Ray Bush, Prof Glenn Bowman, Prof Craig Brandist, Prof Virinder S Kalra, Dr Yasmeen Narayan, Prof Michael Edwards, John Gilmore-Kavanagh, Prof Nadje Al-Ali, Prof Mick Dumper, Graham Topley, Dr Shuruq Naguib, Prof David Whyte, Peter Collins, Dr Andrew Chitty, Prof David Mond, Prof Leon Tikly, Dr Subir Sinha, Dr Mark Berry, Dr Gajendra Singh, Prof Elizabeth Cowie, Dr Richard Lane, Prof Martin Parker, Dr Aboobaker Dangor, Dr Siân Adiseshiah, Prof Dennis Leech, Dr Owen Clayton, Dr John Cowley, Prof Mona Baker, Dr Navtej Purewal, Prof Mica Nava, Prof Joy Townsend, Dr Alex Bellem, Dr Nat Queen, Gareth Dale, Prof Yosefa Loshitzky, Dr Rudi Lutz, Dr Oliver Smith, Tim Kelly, Prof Laleh Khalili, Prof Aneez Esmail, Fazila Bhimji, Prof Hilary Rose, Dr Brian Tweedale, Prof Julian Petley, Prof Richard Hyman, Dr Paul Watt, Nisha Kapoor, Prof Julian Townshend, Prof Roy Maartens, Dr Anna Bernard, Prof Martha Mundy, Prof Martin Atkinson, Dr Claude Baesens, Dr Marijn Nieuwenhuis, Dr Emma Heywood, Dr Matthew Malek, Prof Anthony Milton, Dr Paul O’Connell, Prof Malcolm Povey, Dr Jason Hickel, Dr Jo Littler, Prof Rosalind Galt, Prof Suleiman Shark, Dr Paula James, Dr Linda Pickard, Pat Devine, Dr Jennifer Fortune, Prof Chris Roberts, Dr Les Levidow, Dr Carlo Morelli, Prof David Byrne, Dr Nicholas Cimini, Prof John Smith, Prof Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Dr Peter J King, Prof Bill Brewer, Prof Patrick Williams, Prof Daphne Hampson, Dr Wolfgang Deckers, Cliff Jones, Prof Luis Pérez-González, Prof Patrick Ainley, Dr Paul Kelemen, Prof Dee Reynolds, Dr Enam Al-Wer, Prof Hugh Starkey, Dr Anna Fisk, Prof Linda Clarke, Prof Klim McPherson, Cathy Malone, Prof Graham Dawson, Prof Colin Green, Prof Clément Mouhot, Prof S Sayyid, Prof William Raban, Prof Peter Hallward, Prof Chris Rust, Prof Benita Parry, Prof Andrew Spencer, Prof Philip Marfleet, Prof Frank Land, Dr Peter E Jones, Dr Nicholas Thoburn, Tom Webster, Dr Khursheed Wadia, Dr Philip Gilligan, Dr Lucy Michael, Prof Steve Hall, Prof Steve Keen, Dr David S Moon, Prof Ken Jones, Dr Karen F Evans, Dr Jim Crowther, Prof Alison Phipps, Dr Uri Horesh, Dr Clair Doloriert, Giles Bailey, Prof Murray Fraser, Prof Stephen Huggett, Dr Gabriela Saldanha, Prof Cahal McLaughlin, Ian Pace, Prof Philip Wadler, Dr Hanem El-Farahaty, Dr Anne Alexander, Dr Robert Boyce, Dr Patricia McManus, Prof Mathias Urban, Dr Naomi Woodspring, Prof David Wield, Prof Moin A Saleem, Dr Phil Edwards, Dr Jason Hart, Dr Sharon Kivland, Dr Rahul Rao, Prof Ailsa Land, Dr Lee Grieveson, Dr Paul Bagguley, Dr Rosalind Temple, Dr Karima Laachir, Dr Youcef Djerbib, Dr Sarah Perrigo, Bernard Sufrin, Prof James Dickins, John Burnett, Prof Des Freedman, Dr David Seddon, Prof Steve Tombs, Prof Louisa Sadler, Dr Leon Sealey-Huggins, Dr Rashné Limki, Dr Guy Standing, Dr Arianne Shahvisi, Prof Neil Smith, Myriam Salama-Carr, Dr Graham Smith, Dr Peter Fletcher

FURTHER STATEMENTS:

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