Three Jewish campaigners were denied entry to a “public” talk at given by a pro-Palestinian academic which was advertised as accusing Israel of attempting to “serve the reproductive rights of its Jewish population at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population”.
David Collier, together with Mandy Blumenthal and Yochi Davis, had travelled to the University of Warwick to attend the by Dr Siggie Vertommen, Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College London.
The lecutre was titled ‘Anti-colonial Resistance is Fertile: Sperm Smuggling and Birth Strikes in Palestine/Israel’.
A description of the event, published on Facebook, said that “the State of Israel is known for its pronatalist stance concerning the usage, regulation and subsidising of assisted reproductive technologies… critical scholars have rightly argued that Israel’s pronatalism is a selective one, primarily aimed to serve the reproductive rights of its Jewish population at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population.”
The description went on say that the lecture would “propose a reproductive sabotage framework”, to be adopted by the Palestinians as a form of “resistance and empowerment” against Israel.
In a blog, Mr Collier described the allegation against Israel as, in his view, "a vile antisemitic slur".
He wrote: “Eugenics were most famously used as a justification for the racial policies of Nazi Germany. They are clearly associated with the Holocaust. False accusations of eugenics against Israel, places an accusing finger on the biggest victims of 20th century eugenic experiments – the Jews."
In the Facebook post, the event, organised by Warwick for Justice in Palestine, was advertised as public, with other pro-Palestinian groups elsewhere sharing details for anyone wishing to attend.
However, Mr Collier told the JC that when he and his companions arrived at the university, they were barred from entering the talk.
He said that someone who he recognised as a member of the campus Palestine Society told him it was “a closed meeting".
Mr Collier said he was told by the organisers of the talk that they couldn't let him and his companinions in "because of Prevent [the government’s counter-terrorism strategy]".
Mr Collier went on: “We were then told that they accepted it was an open event, but they had decided that it was a closed event at some point during the day – probably at the very moment that they saw us."
He added: "If they want to be able to have this discussion, then they have to be forced to allow criticism inside that room. If they want to have the freedom to speak, we have to have the freedom to oppose.”
Mr Collier confirmed that he would be making a complaint to the university.
A spokesperson for the university confirmed that a complaint from another source had already been received.
The spokesperson said: “We are aware of this event, which was organised by group of researchers and students.”
“It was not organised by the university. A complaint has been made to the university about this event which we are now considering and which we will respond to.”
However, Warwick University’s Jewish/Israeli society (JISoc) told the JC that the event was not as bad as their members had feared.
“We were deeply concerned with the event’s Facebook description, which we believe amounted to dog-whistle antisemitism,” the group said in a statement.
“As such, a couple of our members attended the event, which had a turnout of 10 to 15 people, and found that the speaker and her content were not antisemitic, and therefore, not worthy of further comment. It is important to note that there was a divergence between the event as advertised, and what was heard on the day."
"We are proud that Warwick JISoc is a rapidly growing society, and that campus is a welcoming space for Jewish students. Indeed, on Wednesday we were honoured to host Dr. Martin Stern, Holocaust survivor, to a packed-out audience.”
Dr Vertommen said she was not in a position to comment on decisions made by Warwick University on who to allow on campus.
She added: "I emphatically oppose any kind of antisemitism. The comparison between Israel's reproductive policies and Nazi eugenics policies is incorrect and outrageous. I have never made such comparisons, nor mentioned the words 'Nazi' or 'eugenics' in my talk.
"My talk was a descriptive analysis of instances of protest inside Israel/Palestine against Israel's reproductive health policies. I used the term 'reproductive sabotage' to describe what some of these protesters see themselves as doing. I did not call for sabotage on my part."