A cancelled event has reignited the row over free speech on campus after a letter written by academics forced organisers to pull the plug on a debate over the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Warwick International Relations Society were forced to close down the event “Question Time: Israel and Palestine” after academics wrote a letter protesting at the inclusion of Yiftah Curiel, head spokesperson for the Israeli embassy.
In the letter academics claim: “Inviting Israeli officials to speak on campus ignores Palestinian calls for solidarity”.
Organisers claim, however, that it was withdrawal of another panellist from the event that prevented it from going ahead, and not academics placing a ban on Curiel from speaking at the debate.
Yet Dr Claudia Prestel, who is known for her staunch support of Palestine, said that this letter was an influence on her decision to boycott the event.
The University of Leicester historian also claimed that there was no genuine space for debate and that both sides would not have felt able to speak freely had the event gone ahead.
She said: “I felt there was no forum to genuinely discuss the issues but it would have served as part of the Israeli ‘hasbara’. I did not want to be on a panel when the outcome was clear.
“That is why I decided to pull out at the last moment. I would love to come to the university and have a genuine debate.”
I felt there was no forum to genuinely discuss the issues but it would have served as part of the Israeli ‘hasbara’. I did not want to be on a panel when the outcome was clear.
Dr Claudia Prestel, historian at Leicester
However, the Warwick Jewish-Israeli Society have claimed that the events leading up to the cancellation and the academics’ letter reveals a more endemic problem in attitudes towards debate on the conflict.
In a statement they said: “We believe that the lead up to the International Relations Society’s cancelled event “Question Time: Israel and Palestine” revealed some very troubling features of the argument against Israel.
“The desire to silence the Israeli voice is completely unacceptable… This is also apparent in the letter by the 18 Warwick academics. The University website says that there are 1,842 academics and researchers at the university.
“Therefore this letter has been signed by less that 1% of Warwick academics, hardly a representative sample size…University academics have no place censoring what it is that students should hear and see on campus.”
We believe that the lead up to the International Relations Society’s cancelled event “Question Time: Israel and Palestine” revealed some very troubling features of the argument against Israel. The desire to silence the Israeli voice is completely unacceptable.
Warwick Jewish-Israeli Society
The statement also reflected on the complex nature of the conflict and claimed that debates such as the one arranged would address these difficulties, something that it claimed students were keen to see.
It said: “The popularity of the event demonstrated that many students at Warwick were looking forward to the event and it is wrong for them to be denied this opportunity because certain people do not think it is appropriate for one or more speakers to be there.
“The cancellation left many of us disappointed and we hope the debate can be reorganised.”
It is not yet known whether the event will be reorganised.