What was different at LSE this time?


By Robyn Rosen
January 14, 2011
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Last night’s debate at LSE could be considered, in more ways that one, a success.

For one, the motion: “This house believes in an academic boycott of Israel” was overwhelmingly defeated after a thorough argument against it by consultant medical oncologist Professor Daniel Hochhauser.

But, after comparing it to the last event held by the student union’s Palestine Society, there are a number of other successes.

The December lecture, where controversial speaker Abdul Bari Atwan called Israel a “racist state” ended when 30 Jewish students walked out in protest and is now being investigated by police.

A catalogue of failures by the university and student union led to the chaos that ensued and I was interested to see what lessons had been learnt in time for last night’s debate.

For starters, the union’s Israel Society was able to put forward a speaker, something refused at the Atwan lecture.

Next, the security was tightened - there were six SU volunteers who stewarded the event, three SU sabbatical officers, two security guards, the head of LSE security and the head of conferences.

A strict admissions policy was enforced, LSE students were asked for ID and non-students had to pre-register.

Before December’s lecture, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) tried to agree a set of conditions, including the videoing of the event and chairing by an independent academic but the chair turned out to be senior LSE lecturer and co-convenor of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), Professor Martha Mundy.

The videoing was left up to the Palestine Society who produced the recording six days later. The quality was poor and repeatedly skipped sections.

At last night’s event, the university’s pro-director helped the Israel Society find an impartial chair (Professor Kevin Featherstone should indeed be commended for his fair chairing)and the university recorded the event themselves.

The debate went smoothly and without incident and proved to be an interesting and thought-provoking evening.

This debate shows how successful a potentially volatile event can be when the two sides work together and come to an agreement, an ironic point considering the motion called for ties to be broken.

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