Smearing Palestine in UK schools must stop
Educational institutions that censor the very mention of Palestine are compromising the integrity of the British education system
British educational institutions are highly regarded worldwide. Unfortunately, some of them are unable to find the courage to speak about, or even allow mention of, Palestine at their campuses. As the Palestinian cause becomes more prevalent among British society, smear campaigns are increasing.
Educational institutions that censor the very mention of Palestine are compromising the integrity of the British education system, and the basic fundamentals of free speech, which has been recognized as a common law in Britain for decades. The past few months have proven that powerful institutions are being selective as to who can exercise that right when it comes to Palestine.
The cancellation of a legal conference titled “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism” is a testament to the sensitivity over the Palestinian cause. The conference was organized by professors Suleiman Sharkh and Oran Ben-Dor, a Palestinian and Israeli respectively.
The smear campaign proved strong enough for the university to cancel the conference due to alleged health and safety concerns. If the title of the conference had been one that did not garner media attention, it would have likely not been cancelled.
The university’s decision is detrimental to what it stands for. If there were serious health and safety concerns, it would have been the university’s responsibility to organize additional security.
The issue of not even discussing Palestine extends beyond university administration and into the student body. After Malia Bouattia become the first black female president of the National Union of Students (NUS), a smear campaign was launched against her that focused on her outspoken sympathy toward Palestine. The campaign was covered by news outlets throughout the country.
Educational institutions that censor the very mention of Palestine are compromising the integrity of the British education system, and the basic fundamentals of free speechYara al-Wazir
Rather than focussing on her achievements and what Bouattia can offer the NUS, the media focussed on statements she had made about the right of Palestinians to defend themselves. If she had made similar comments about any other people facing oppression - Syrians, Afghans, or even the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community - it would not have been considered outrageous.
Universities are not the only institutions in the UK that have proven sensitive over Palestine, but they are the most resistant to change. Last week, 15-year-old Leanne Mohamed won a regional speech competition for her heartfelt commemoration of the Nakba (Catastrophe), the Palestinians’ dispossession in 1948 when Israel was created.
The Speakers Trust, which organized the competition, expelled her from it and removed the video of the speech from the internet. The Trust initially used the verbal abuse posted in the comments section of the video as an excuse to take it down. She was expelled because her speech did not have a “positive and uplifting message.”
Rather than praising a young millennial - whose generation is often shamed for being apathetic - for such a heartfelt speech, the system chose to silence her. The message this sends to the public is dangerously clear: freedom of expression is limited when it comes to Palestine.
Events that address Palestine must be celebrated, not censored. It is vital to promote world history from numerous vantage points at educational institutions, otherwise where are people expected to learn?
Numerous organizations and bloggers in the UK are leading these smear campaigns, not realizing that silencing history will not delete it. The anti-Palestine lobby in the UK is strong, and can only be combatted with an equally strong pro-truth lobby. The pressure put on The Speakers Trust to republish Mohamed’s video proved that organizations react to whomever shouts the loudest.
Sympathy for Palestine is not anti-Semitic, and direct action must be taken to stop institutions from giving in to smear campaigns whose purpose is to stop the public from even knowing where Palestine is on the map.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir