Cambridge crackdown on Palestine event part of ‘worrying trend’

Demonstrators marching for Palestine solidarity are joined by a pro-Israeli group as they head towards Parliament Square, in central London on November 4, 2017. (REUTERS/ Peter Nicholls)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Cambridge crackdown on Palestine event part of ‘worrying trend’

LONDON: More than 350 people, including lecturers from leading UK universities, have signed an open letter protesting “an intolerable violation of academic freedom” after Cambridge University officials threatened to shut down a Palestine Society event on Wednesday.
Lecturers from Cambridge, SOAS and LSE were among those who condemned the decision to intervene in a panel event hosted by the student-run Cambridge University Palestine Society (PalSoc).
University officials contacted organizers hours before the “BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) and the globalized struggle for Palestinian rights” event was due to begin, insisting that its director of communications Paul Mylrea replace SOAS academic Ruba Salih as the panel’s chair.
Organizers agreed after being told the event would be canceled if they refused to comply.
Jamie Woodcock, a fellow at LSE, told Arab News that Cambridge University’s decision is part of a “broader worrying trend.”
“Time and time again we are seeing managers move in to control events, or shut them down all together, under the cover of ‘security concerns’ or ‘impartiality.’ In fact what we are seeing is an undermining of civil liberties, academic freedom, and the right to free political expression.”
In a press release, PalSoc criticized the “heavy-handed, authoritarian intervention by university management in the panel on human rights.
“Their replacement of a Palestinian woman with a white male member of university management, with no substantiation of their claim that the former was incapable of neutrality other than racialized insinuation, sends deeply disturbing signals about the prevalence of institutionalized discrimination at Cambridge.
“Similar events at LSE ... raise the same concerns.”
The Cambridge University panel included pro-Palestinian speakers including Omar Barghouti and former NUS President Malia Bouattia.
Describing the university’s decision as “a form of censorship as well as an undermining of academic freedom,” Bouattia said that “one is left wondering if the same would have happened if the event was chaired by a white man, or organized by another group than the Palestine society.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Cambridge University said: “The university is fully committed to freedom of speech and expression. We do understand that certain events and issues invoke strong feelings among people and communities. But we believe it is important that staff, students and visitors to the university can participate fully in legitimate debate, partly so that they are able to question and test controversial ideas.
“We have no reason to believe that these events are in any way unlawful. Events will be well-chaired in order to ensure open, robust and lawful debate. In this instance, following calls from the organizers for extra safety measures, a neutral chair was provided to ensure that all sides were represented in what is an important and often emotionally charged debate.”
But the open letter signed by academics said, “It is disturbing that university authorities consider appropriate such censorship, including the forced imposition of an ‘independent chair,’ on an event designed to raise awareness about the human rights of Palestinians and indigenous peoples around the world.
“In doing so, it risks being seen to side with those who seek to silence the voices of the marginalized, and raises questions about the extent of its commitment to free speech.”
Priyamvada Gopal, a lecturer at Churchill College, Cambridge, was among the first to sign the open letter.
“This is a manifest violation of academic freedom. I am also deeply concerned at the implicit racial politics of such a move which in this case has involved replacing a respected female academic of color with a purportedly ‘neutral’ white man,” she said.
“There is no such thing as ‘neutrality’ in historical and political matters: All academics are enjoined and able to conduct robust and open discussions.”


Yemen groups agree to reopen Sanaa airport, still in talks on port at Sweden talks

Updated 48 min 40 sec ago
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Yemen groups agree to reopen Sanaa airport, still in talks on port at Sweden talks

  • Askar Zaeel, a member of the government delegation, said his camp would hold firm to UN Security Council Resolution 2216
  • Multiple draft proposals have been submitted to the two delegations over the past week

RIMBO, Sweden: Yemen's warring parties agreed on Wednesday to reopen Sanaa airport in the Houthi-held capital, sources said, as Western nations press the two sides to agree on confidence-building measures before the end of the first UN-led peace talks in two years.
The Iranian-backed Houthi movement and the Arab coalition-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi were still discussing a UN proposal on the contested port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to attend final talks in Sweden on Thursday to support his envoy's efforts to launch a political process to end the nearly four-year-old war. Another round of talks could be held in early 2019.
The Houthi militia hold most population centres, including Hodeidah and the capital Sanaa from which it ousted Hadi's government in 2014. The government is now based in the southern port of Aden.
The two parties agreed that international flights would stop at a government-held airport for inspections before flying in or out of Sanaa, two sources familiar with the talks said.
They have yet to agree on whether those inspections would be in Aden airport or that of Sayun, the sources added.
The Arab coalition intervened in the war in 2015 to restore Hadi's government controls the air space.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths, trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, where coalition forces have massed on the outskirts, is asking both sides to withdraw from the city.
His proposal envisions an interim entity being formed to run the city and port and international monitors being deployed.
Asked if the government could accept that proposal, culture minister Marwan Dammaj said: "We are still discussing it."
Both sides have agreed to a UN role in the port, the entry point for most of Yemen's commercial imports and vital aid, but differ on who should run the city. The Houthi militia want Hodeidah declared a neutral zone, while Hadi's government believes the city should fall under its control as a matter of sovereignty.
"The devil is in the details - withdraw how far (from Hodeidah), the sequence, who governs and delivers services," said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They have also yet to agree on shoring up the central bank, and on a transitional governing body, although a deal was struck on a prisoner swap that could see 15,000 prisoners released.