The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies has refused to cancel a series of lectures marking the centenary of Tel Aviv.
A Palestinian pressure group demanded that the series, organised by the Centre for Jewish Studies, did not go ahead, claiming it was “morally repulsive” to be celebrating Tel Aviv “while Gaza burns”.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called on the university to cancel the “ill-conceived propaganda exercise.”
The branch chair of the University and College Union at SOAS, Dr Graham Dyer, said: “A pro-Israeli propaganda exercise masquerading as an academic conference has no place in SOAS at the best of times, but to hold a celebration of Tel Aviv as the Israeli war machine wreaks death and destruction on the Gaza ghetto is nothing short of sick.”
Dr Dyer added that cancelling or postponing the series was not an issue of denial of academic freedom but an expression of “basic humanitarian sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.
“We cannot celebrate anything during this holocaust,” he said.
But SOAS insisted it was a forum for free and frank debate and that it was committed to academic freedom. “Any call for cancelling this series will be seen as being based not on opposition to the centenary but on the participation of Israeli academics,” said the head of the Centre for Jewish Studies at SOAS, Prof Colin Shindler. “Academic institutions rightly do not suppress different narratives and opinions.”
The director of SOAS, Prof Paul Webley, said that it was his job to ensure that academic freedom prevailed.
He told opponents of the lectures that “freedom of speech and tolerance” was “one of the school’s most fundamental values”, and he was therefore ensuring that the series went ahead.
The 100 years of Tel Aviv lecture series is held in conjunction with Tel Aviv University and the Pears Foundation.