"If the university continues down this route of trying to impose extensive surveillance and to control free speech on Palestine there will be a very public campaign to defend our rights. Widespread public opinion is in solidarity with Palestine - and that includes students and staff of this university from whom we receive significant support.
Our meeting will be taking place, whether it’s in Dalhousie or outside on the steps of the building - a picture that certainly would not paint the university in a good light."
In February 2017, Universities Minister Jo Johnson wrote to UK universities warning them to oppose pro-Palestine activism.
In Edinburgh an Israeli Apartheid Week series of events were banned by the authorities with no fightback - indeed no discernable opposition. Two Edinburgh churches cancelled bookings for the talks on preposterous grounds.
In March, Dundee University Action Palestine joined in an SPSC series of public meetings against attacks on free speech on the issue of Palestine. The speaker was someone in the firing line, Jackie Walker who had been suspended from the Labour Party on baseless allegations of “anti-semitism”.
Jenn Ciolfo wrote on behalf of Dundee University authorities to SPSC member and DUAP President, Haris Rashid, reporting “some concerns from other students regarding the content of the speech Ms. Walker is going to be delivering” and asked for “a synopsis of the talk that we can expect that night [since] we have a duty to respect both freedom of speech and all equality laws…”
Haris Rashid wrote back asking “what exactly are these concerns and have these concerns been made by verified students at the university?” He noted “previous attempts by opponents of Palestinian human rights advocates to try and shut down such meetings based on evidence-free accusations and smears”.
Dundee University lacked any sense of irony for Haris noted that the advertised speaker, “will be discussing attempts to stifle free speech on Palestine, her being the target of 'black-ops' by the Israeli Embassy and attempts of the embassy to interfere with British politics, recently exposed in the 4-part documentary 'The Lobby', aired on Al Jazeera News.” He informed the University authorities that “We will also be discussing the racist political ideology of Zionism and the problem it presents to peace in the Middle East…I as President of our society will be chairing this meeting and I can assure you, this meeting will not be breaking any 'equality laws'.
Haris Rashid was asked to attend a meeting with University management but in the event he heard of a meeting to discuss the issue to which he had not been invited. Attending, nonetheless. Haris answered questions before being asked by senior staff to leave. A Student Association officer who remained later reported that after Haris left the Prevent programme was discussed in the context of special measures for campus meetings on Palestine.
After the meeting University Secretary Jim McGeorge sent an email to Haris as President of the Action Palestine society:
Thank you for meeting with the internal Group responsible for considering the practicalities surrounding your DUSA Society’s proposed event later this month involving a potentially controversial speaker. The purpose of the meeting was to enable the Group to receive more detailed information from you about the event and to consider it in the context of the University’s draft guidance on Freedom of Expression on campus. This guidance is designed to ensure that in protecting the right of freedom of expression on campus the University nevertheless has due regard to its obligation to ensure that speakers, staff, students and visitors act in ways that are consistent with the law and its responsibilities for the safety of all campus users.
Following due consideration, the Group has decided that your event should be permitted to go ahead on the basis of the additional controls set out below, which you are required to comply with as the event organiser:
1. You must arrange for a more detailed synopsis/account of the material the speaker plans to cover in her talk to be submitted to the University’s Head of Equality & Diversity not less than ten days in advance of the event;
2. You must confirm that you have provided the speaker in advance with guidance on the University’s expectations of visiting speakers, which you should discuss with the Head of Equality & Diversity;
3. You and your co-sponsors must provide the Head of Equality & Diversity with copies of all promotional materials (in any format or medium) prior to their use, for the purposes of checking they are lawful;
4. You must undertake a risk assessment, discuss it with the Head of Equality & Diversity and Head of Precinct Services not less than ten days in advance of the event and implement any actions arising;
5. You should consider filming and/or recording the event so that evidence is available against which to judge any subsequent challenge around the legality or otherwise of anything said and done at the event.
The University reserves the right to have a member of senior staff present at the event who will have the authority to halt proceedings at any point if it appears to her/him that the University’s guidance on freedom of expression has or is about to be breached or there is any potential threat to health and safety. The University also reserves the right to reconsider its approval for the event should it feel it necessary to do so in the context of any concerns arising from the speaker’s earlier engagements on her current tour.
Thank you once again for attending our meeting. I know this process represents a change from the University’s previous practice in this area, but hope that you appreciate that this is in response to changes in the legal environment in which we operate as well as enhanced guidance on the expectation of universities in this area. I hope also that you will recognise that the additional
controls required of you are designed to help ensure that you, as well as the University, are protected by being able to demonstrate that this event has been planned in a way that ensures so far as is possible that it takes place within the law and does not place students, staff or visitors at risk.”
Please feel free to contact me if I can provide any further information or clarification.
Haris Rashid responded politely but defiantly for DUAP
We would like to seek clarification on why exactly our speaker is considered "controversial." The message of her speech (as is clear on our promotional materials) is that pro-Israel voices are seeking to exempt the racist ideology of Zionism from criticism and smear opponents as ‘antisemitic’, [and that] the Boycott Divestment and Sanction movement is the solution to ending Israeli Apartheid and occupation.
"This is a message consistent with our society aims, as enshrined in our constitution, and with previous speakers we have hosted – when we have never been presented with such conditions. What is it about this speaker specifically that the university is concerned about?
"These conditions that you are trying to impose on our society are onerous and quite frankly humiliating. During the meeting I assured you that our society has never acted outwith the law or has ever had any issues with health and safety. We cannot accept university officials treating us like suspects. No other society at this university is subject to this level of surveillance .
We note that in your email, you make reference to changes in the “legal environment” Please could you clarify what exactly these legal changes are?
I also request copies of any correspondence the University has had in relation to our meeting. The correspondence may be with individuals or organisations, including government bodies, pro-Israel lobby groups, and politicians.
In terms of “legal environment” the university has obligations under the Human Rights Act to comply with the European Convention and could be liable to undergo legal action if it fails to do so. In attempting to vet our meeting, and if there were to be any attempt to insist on interventions to halt proceedings, the university would be breaching Articles 10 and 11 the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
In addition, Article 14 specifies that our rights and freedoms contained in the Human Rights Act must be protected and applied without discrimination. This requires that there be no discrimination on any grounds, including that of political opinion.
If the university continues down this route of trying to impose extensive surveillance and to control free speech on Palestine there will be a very public campaign to defend our rights. Widespread public opinion is in solidarity with Palestine - and that includes students and staff of this university from whom we receive significant support.
Our meeting will be taking place, whether it’s in Dalhousie or outside on the steps of the building - a picture that certainly would not paint the university in a good light.
- Dundee University Branch of the University and College Union passed a motion in support f the students’ rights.
- The Israel lobby had organised letters to the local daily, The Courier, and the Sunday
- A pro-Israel MSP had written directly to the University Principal urging him to cancel the event.
Faced with such determined resistance, the University management abandoned its demand for the society to accept special measures.
A follow up email from DUAP shared some pertinent information with the University Secretary:
“I attach for your information chairing notes that we use as a society use as guidance for public meetings. The purpose of our public meetings is to inform, discuss and encourage debate on issues related to Israel/Palestine. We always expect differences of opinion and insist that however robustly we engage with each other, personal attacks will not be tolerated. We are an anti-racist campaign in support of the Palestinian call for a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions is based on demands for equality, justice and freedom - we do not tolerate racism in any form.
To be clear, as per my previous email on the matter, we don’t accept special measures to be placed on meetings organised in support of Palestinian rights. In particular, we see any attempt by the University to step in at any point during our meeting to halt proceedings as being oppressive and unacceptable.
However, we welcome university staff who have a genuine interest in hearing from the speaker or who wish to challenge any ideas presented by the speaker at the end of discussions in the allocated Q+A. As discussed above, we campaign in support of Palestinian rights and are aware of British and Israeli government attempts to curtail free speech on Palestine and to criminalise solidarity with Palestinians who are victim to systems of occupation, apartheid and colonisation.
We also know that there are organisations and individuals in Scotland who support the Israeli government and are joining efforts to suppress free speech on this issue. We hope the University of Dundee will not facilitate such attempts and are encouraged to hear in the press that our Principal has refused to cancel the meeting.
For your information I copy below a list of some of the speakers we have hosted at Dundee University (some of which I have chaired personally) and some information about the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organisation that we have worked closely with over the years.
Also below please find a video link of Jackie [Walker, the speaker] responding to opposition in a previous talk.
I hope this is sufficient re-assurance that we will be able to handle our meeting in a safe and orderly manner.
Previous speakers include
- Zayneb Al-Shalalfeh – Zayneb worked both in the Gaza Strip and Occupied West Bank in her role as Project Manager with Oxfam, Premiere Urgence Internationale and LifeSource. She also volunteers for the The Union of Argicultural Work Committees (UNAWC) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
- Leehee Rothschild – Leehee is an Israeli Palestinian Human Rights Campaigner, Israeli army ‘refusenik’ and a member of 'Boycott From Within'.
- Hamed Qawasmeh – Hamed is from Hebron and previously worked for six years for years for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitiarian Affairs in Occupied Palestine.
- Dr Hajo Meyer – Dr Meyer survived almost a year in Auschwitz Nazi death camp, after being caught by the Gestapo in 1944. He spoke about his experience and in support of Palestinian rights in a tour entitled ‘Never Again—For Anyone’.
- Max Blumenthal – Max is a Jewish American journalist and author who has written extensively on Israel/Palestine.
- Dr Ben Alofs – Dr Alofs was working as a nurse in West Beirut in 1982, as it was being besieged by the Israeli Army.
- Mahmoud Sarsak – Mahmoud was a member of the Palestinian national football team who was seized by Israeli troops, held without charge and tortured over many weeks in Israel's notorious prison system.
- Jim Malone and Ciaran Gibbons – Film screening of ‘Firefighters under occupation’ and Q&A with Jim (FBU Scotland) and Ciaran (FBU Wales). ‘Firefighters Under Occupation’ documents the humanitarian support given to Palestinian firefighters by the FBU as well as the facilitation of training here in Scotland and the long standing bond between Dundee and its twin town of Nablus.
- Gideon Levy – Gideon is a prominent Israeli journalist. For over twenty years he has covered th Israel-Palestine conflict, in particular the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.
Notes from Scottish PSC
We are witnessing a concerted campaign orchestrated by the Israeli Embassy in London to close down public debate on Israeli crimes. The people who have written to you to cancel the public meeting are open supporters of the repeated massacres of Palestinians, the apartheid structures of Israel’s illegal occupation, and the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people.
We are also witnessing a linked campaign to implicate Jewish people and communities in Scotland with the behaviour of the Israeli State by claiming that opposition to the latter involves hostility and harm to the former. This is wholly untrue, as well as sinister.
We would ask you to consider whether anyone should be taken seriously who writes, as the Chair of Glasgow Friends of Israel has, in language more suitable to another time and place, that the identity of a Jewish anti-racist campaigner, Jackie Walker, has been “disproved by examination of her birth certificate that shows she has no Jewish blood”!
Recognition of SPSC’s work for Palestinian human rights is long standing:
a 2011 motion to the Scottish Parliament signed by over 40 MSPs “supports the efforts of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign to raise awareness of the rights of the Palestinian people”. The same motion also “calls on the UK Government to stop arms sales to Israel”, a position also shared by the current Scottish Government. A motion by Tory Jackson Carlaw attacking SPSC was supported by one other Tory MSP, John Lamont.
Also in 2011, 68 Westminster MPs signed Early Day Motion 1677 in the name of Jeremy Corbyn and Jewish MP Gerald Kaufman welcoming “the Stop the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Campaign launched on 30 March 2011 by the Palestinian Boycott National Committee, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and others to inform the
public about the JNF[‘s] ongoing illegal expropriation of Palestinian land, concealing of destroyed Palestinian villages beneath parks and forests, and prevention of refugees from returning to their homes”. We note that (Lady) Hazel Cosgrove is patron of the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland; she is also honorary patron of JNF UK.
Muslim News award
As early as 2002, the Muslim News awarded Mick Napier and SPSC the 2002 Annemarie Schimmel award for championing a Muslim cause. The citation read: “Michael Napier is a prominent member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) in Edinburgh. Largely unnoticed by many in the UK, the PSC is resolute in its opposition to the atrocities and human rights abuses
Absurd 2009-10 racism trial
Five SPSC members were found not guilty of racism in an Edinburgh court in 2010, after the PF claimed in open court that saying the words “End the siege of Gaza, genocide in Gaza” was inherently racist. Sheriff Scott ruled that rights to free speech would be worthless if criticism of the State of Israel was to be conflated with anti-semitism. Sheriff Scott ridiculed and threw out all
charges, noting of the human rights protest that “the procurator fiscal's attempts to squeeze malice and ill will were rather strained".
A senior police officer’s experience
Ex-Chief Inspector Gavin Buist, after extensive experience of working with SPSC and Mr Napier wrote publicly to SPSC that “I was the Chief Inspector in Edinburgh City centre who commanded most of the policing operations around the unofficial rallies and marches organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign… You and your colleagues have my unequivocal support.”