Academics and student activists have slammed the University of Cambridge, accusing it of censorship for threatening to cancel an event hosted by the Palestine Society featuring BDS founder Omar Barghouti.
The university sought to remove Prof. Ruba Salih from her position as chairwoman of the event. Salih, who is a lecturer in the School of African and Oriental Studies, is Palestinian; the university, in calling for her replacement, cited a need for “open, robust and lawful debate,” suggesting Salih would not be able to facilitate such a dialogue due to her background.
The student organizer of the event, Ed McNally, said that the university was “bowing to external pressure from a pro-Israel lobby group.”
Students and academics from Cambridge and dozens of other British universities penned a letter to the university, protesting what they called a “threat to academic freedom.”
The petition, which has garnered hundreds of signatures in a matter of days, names StandWithUs as the “pro-Israel lobby” that demanded the university cancel the event.
The organization “rests on a litany of potentially libelous and bigoted accusations of racism against Omar Barghouti” and also against one of the panel speakers, National Union of Students president Malia Bouattia.
The petition defends Barghouti and claims the government has waged a campaign of “intimidation” against him, including charges of “civil assassination,” detention and arrogation, which they term “common practice for Israel in its treatment of human rights defenders.”
Barghouti, an Israeli resident and graduate of Tel Aviv University, is a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Often accused of antisemitism, he has equated Israel with an apartheid state. Barghouti was arrested in early 2017 on charges of tax evasion.