A university has cancelled a meeting hosted by a Friends of Palestine student society after lobbying from a pro-Israeli organisation.
The University of Central Lancashire (Uclan) in Preston cancelled the meeting, set to take place on Tuesday of next week, claiming that it was antisemitic.
It came after a group called North West Friends of Israel campaigned to have the meeting scrapped.
Event organisers said the meeting would involve a “panel discussion around debunking misconceptions on Palestine, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) followed by a Q&A session”.
In a vaguely worded statement Uclan said the event “contravenes” the definition of antisemitism recently adopted by the government—although did not explain why.
The university had not responded to requests for clarification at the time of writing.
Uclan Friends of Palestine society chair Anam Riaz said the university’s move is, “simply an attack on our freedom of speech and is an extreme form of censorship.
“We have every right to speak out on what is happening in Palestine and should be able to advocate for Palestinian rights without facing false accusations of antisemitism.”
And lecturer Michael Lavalette, who was due to speak at the meeting, said, “University is meant to be a place of open debate—this is a fundamental attack on freedom of speech and expression”.
“Each of us has the right to criticise any country in the world,” he added. “The UN recently condemned Israel’s West Bank Settlement construction programme—would Uclan ban the UN?”
Pro-Israeli groups such as North West Friends of Israel and Stand With Us are desperate to shut down Palestine solidarity events on university campuses.
The two groups used social media to call on their supporters to complain to Uclan in a bid to cancel the event.
They hope to use the government’s definition of antisemitism to block legitimate criticism of Israel.
The definition, adopted in December last year, says examples of antisemitism might include “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”.
It also says it could be antisemitic to apply “double standards” to Israel “by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.
Yet the BDS campaign targets Israel because of its 50-year long occupation of Palestinian territories—not because it is Jewish.
And it is obviously legitimate to criticise Israel for the occupation, its settlement building and its brutality towards Palestinians.
The attack on Uclan Friends of Palestine could be one of the first times the definition has been used to shut down a pro-Palestinian event.
Anam said that using the definition this way “not only demeans genuine instances of antisemitism, but is used as a means of silencing legitimate criticism of Israeli policy”.
Anam told Socialist Worker she had not been formally told about the cancellation, and that she had previously been reassured by the university and the students’ union that the event would go ahead.
But North West Friends of Israel were celebrating the decision on their Facebook page yesterday, Tuesday. The news was reported on the Jewish Chronicle and Times of Israel news websites shortly after.
Preston-based group Children of the Ghetto says it will host the meeting off campus to make sure that it goes ahead anyway if Uclan doesn’t back down.
Activists have also suggested that there could be further protests.