Canterbury Christchurch University (CCCU) has provoked a storm of criticism over its decision to host a lecture by Rony Yedidia, Israel’s Director of Public Affairs in the UK.
The university’s debating society was approached by the Israeli Embassy, offering a speaker visit, which the university agreed to.
The Israeli Embassy also demanded to know the names of anyone who would be sharing the platform with Ms Yedidia. Instead, CCCU decided not to put up any Palestinian voices on the platform at all, and honoured her with a “VIP” billing.
University security staff also took the decision to bar the public from the event, even though its Making Politics Matter events are intended “to engage the regional population – including students and the general public”. And any CCCU students were barred entry if they did not present a smartcard on arrival.
The event was titled “Middle East politics and the future of the two-state solution”, even though the Israeli Prime Minister publicly vowed that he would never allow a Palestinian state to be created.
The event was publicised using both the Palestinian and Israeli flags – despite no Palestinian representative being invited – and a dove of peace image.
The university’s Vice Chancellor has been receiving numerous emails of objection from CCCU staff members and members of the public.
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, Chair of the British Committee for Universities in Palestine, also objected directly to Vice Chancellor Rama Thirunamachandran, who defended the decision.
Professor Rosenhead wrote:
“Dear Professor Thirunamachandran
Some objectors said they believed that the university was in breach of a law that states that extremist speakers invited to university campuses must share any platform with an opposing speaker. University authorities said they did not consider the Israeli speaker extremist, despite her representing a country that defends its war crimes and human rights violations, carries out extrajudicial executions, recruits fighters from abroad and is illegally occupying and aggressively expanding into territory that is not its own.
Others pointed out that the university was likely to be used by the Israeli Embassy for propaganda purposes, which was borne out on Twitter within minutes of Ms Yadidia’s talk beginning:
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUK) November 10, 2015
During her speech, the Embassy also tweeted her remark that “both sides will need to make painful compromises to reach a lasting peace & have a Palestinian & Israeli state side by side”.
The university argued that it was upholding the principle of freedom of speech, and was willing to follow up with an event hosting a speaker from the Palestinian delegation to the UK.
Objectors argued that upholding freedom of speech did not have to involve accepting the speaker’s demands, excluding the public and flattering the representative of an institutionally racist state with the title of “VIP”.
A peaceful demonstration was due to take place this evening outside the event.