Senior academics accuse Cambridge University of “censorship” of pro-Palestine event

Cambridge University

A group of senior academics have slammed the University of Cambridge for a “crackdown on free speech” after officials threatened to shut down a pro-Palestine event.

Cambridge University’s Palestine Society has released an open letter condemning the institution’s decision to “interfere” in an event organised yesterday evening, in what it called “an intolerable violation of academic freedom by a self-styled global leader”.

Lecturers at Cambridge, Warwick, the London School of Economics and SOAS have all added their names to the letter – seen by the Evening Standard – which received hundreds of signatures from members of staff and students.

University officials contacted the student-run Palestine Society just hours before their event was due to take place, demanding their director of communications, Paul Mylrea, be installed as the panel’s chair “to ensure open, robust and lawful debate”.

The panel event, entitled “BDS and the Globalised Struggle for Palestinian Rights”, was due to be chaired by Dr Ruba Salih, an academic from the School of Oriental and African Studies.

However, the letter claims that the university stepped in to request that Dr Salih was removed from the event and replaced by an “independent” chair who “does not have the same political views as the other panellists.”

The University’s director of communications, Paul Mylrea, was given responsibility for chairing the event.

The event was set to feature a panel of pro-Palestine speakers, including Omar Barghouti and former NUS president Malia Bouattia.

 

Mr Barghouti, the founder of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, leads the campaign for international economic and political sanctions to be placed on Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians.

The open letter reads: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempt by university authorities to interfere in a panel event and believe such efforts constitute an intolerable violation of academic freedom”,

The letter continued, “It is deeply concerning that the University has attempted to suppress this event through aggressive institutional intervention. In doing so, it risks being seen to side with those who seek to silence the voices of the marginalised, and raises questions about the extent of its commitment to free speech”.

Cambridge University released a statement saying, “The University is fully committed to freedom of speech and expression. We do understand that certain events and issues invoke strong feelings among people and communities. But we believe it is important that staff, students and visitors to the University can participate fully in legitimate debate, partly so that they are able to question and test controversial ideas.”

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