Recently several UK universities have censored or restricted pro-Palestinian events.
“Removing a respected Palestinian academic as chair of a panel event based on an unsubstantiated assumption about her lack of ‘neutrality,’ and in doing so bowing to external pressure from a pro-Israel lobby group, cannot be construed as anything other than a naked attack on free speech and, more particularly academic freedom.”
— Cambridge University student Ed McNally
The University of Cambridge is facing accusations of censorship after it allegedly threatened to ban a meeting about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement unless the Palestinian academic chairing it was removed and replaced with its own choice.
Ruba Salih from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) was set to oversee Wednesday’s event featuring Palestinian BDS activist, Omar Barghouti, but organizers say they were forced to cancel her participation hours before it was due to start after the university intervened citing concerns over her neutrality.
Palestinian activists say the incident highlights the increasingly restrictive atmosphere for critics of Israel on campuses across the UK. Ed McNally, the Cambridge student who organized the event, told Al Jazeera that the university was “undoubtedly” violating its commitment to free expression.
“Removing a respected Palestinian academic as chair of a panel event based on an unsubstantiated assumption about her lack of ‘neutrality,’ and in doing so bowing to external pressure from a pro-Israel lobby group, cannot be construed as anything other than a naked attack on free speech and, more particularly academic freedom,” McNally said.
Hundreds of students and academics have signed an open letter condemning Salih’s removal as chair of the event. In an email exchange, a university spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the institution is “fully committed to freedom of speech and expression.”
“We have no reason to believe that these events are in any way unlawful,” the spokesperson said, adding, “In this instance, following calls from the organizers for extra safety measures, a neutral chair was provided to ensure that all sides were represented in what is an important and often emotionally charged debate.”