By Nick Clark
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Universities fight to protect solidarity with Palestine

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Issue 2742
A ban on criticising Israel is being pushed onto campuses
A ban on criticising Israel is being pushed onto campuses (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The battle to defend the right to speak out for Palestine has returned to universities.

Some students in Oxford tried to stop left wing ­filmmaker Ken Loach from speaking at a university event last week.

Tory education secretary Gavin Williamson ­demands that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and its examples to shut down legitimate criticism of Israel.

The head of St Peter’s College, Oxford, apologised after allowing the event with Loach to go ahead.

A group of students had demanded the event be cancelled, partly because Loach has said Israel was founded “based on ethnic cleansing”.


His remarks refer to the fact that 850,000 Palestinians were systematically expelled from their homes because of their ethnicity when Israel was created in 1948.

In demands to the college, some students outrageously accused Loach of a “history of blatant antisemitism”.

They said this breached one of the examples attached to the IHRA definition of ­antisemitism. The example says it can be antisemitic to describe the existence of Israel as a “racist endeavour.”

Students at St Peter’s College also accused Loach of “antisemitism denial” because he has opposed these accusations.

The IHRA definition was at the heart of accusations of antisemitism levelled at Labour members under the left wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Supporters of Israel and the right demanded Labour adopt it with all of its examples.

They claimed the left’s support for Palestinians fuelled antisemitism.

Corbyn’s leadership backed down and accepted the definition, making concessions to the claims that the left has a widespread problem with antisemitism.

The attacks on Loach show how this opened up space for wider assaults on the left and Palestine ­solidarity.

Labour steps up drive against solidarity with Palestine
Labour steps up drive against solidarity with Palestine
  Read More

Long before the accusation was turned against Corbyn, supporters of Israel have attempted to use the definition to try to target Palestine solidarity activists on campuses.

In 2017 Socialist Worker revealed how bosses at the University of Central Lancashire used the IHRA definition to shut down a meeting.

The meeting was ­supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

BDS calls for a boycott of companies linked to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The meeting was held as part of the annual Israeli Apartheid Week event ­organised by students at many universities.

Israeli Apartheid Week is often targeted by ­supporters of Israel.

One of the first accusations of antisemitism levelled at the Labour Party came when Oxford University Labour Club supported it.

Now, emboldened by their victories in Labour, the right is preparing for a renewed assault against Palestine ­solidarity in universities.

Yet academics at University College London last week voted to reject the IHRA definition.

It is still possible to defend the right to campaign in ­solidarity with Palestine.

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