A precedent has been set. The University of Central Lancashire has cancelled an event which was scheduled for the nationwide “Israel Apartheid Week”. The cancelled session titled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine” was organised by the university’s Friends of Palestine Society and was promoted as a panel discussion promoting a boycott of Israel. In the past, “Israel Apartheid Week” has seen a range of antisemitic abuse, demonstrations and speaker events.
In a powerful statement on behalf of the university, a spokesperson said that the event contravened the International Definition of Antisemitism which has been adopted by the British Government. He said: “We believe the proposed talk contravenes the new definition and furthermore breaches university protocols for such events, where we require assurances of a balanced view or a panel of speakers representing all interests. In this instance our procedures determined that the proposed event would not be lawful and therefore it will not proceed as planned.”
The decision appears to follow a letter sent by Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, to Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK. In the letter he asks her to “disseminate this [definition] in your institution so that this position is widely known and clearly understood.” He ended: “This Government will diligently pursue our commitment to tackle intolerance and bigotry in every form”.
Campaign Against Antisemitism is very encouraged by this positive development and we commend the University of Central Lancashire for its principled response, as well as the many members of the public and activist groups who wrote to the university about this event.
Significantly, universities often allow unsavoury events within their premises on the basis that they are organised by students’ unions, which are not under the control of the university. Such a stance is at odds with the law which places obligations on universities to control the use of their premises in accordance with the government’s counter-extremism strategy. It is absolutely right that universities should now use the definition of antisemitism adopted by the British government and the College of Policing, and enforce it on any organisation or body seeking to use their premises.
In particular, this decision makes the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) look foolish following our revelation last week that its Director refuses to even consider adopting the International Definition of Antisemitism. We will not be dropping the matter.
We are extremely keen to hear from students who are experiencing antisemitism on campus, or who are aware of upcoming events of concern via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.