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.”


Erdogan declares victory in Turkish presidential election

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters as he leaves his residence in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 June 2018
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Erdogan declares victory in Turkish presidential election

  • Erdogan has just under 53 percent in the presidential poll while Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 31 percent, state-run Anadolu news agency said, based on a 96 percent vote count
  • The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was polling 11 percent, well over the 10 percent minimum threshold needed to win 46 seats, which would make it the second largest opposition party in the new chamber

ANKARA: Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party claimed victory in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary polls on Sunday, overcoming the biggest electoral challenge to their rule in a decade and a half.
However, the main opposition party said it was too early to concede defeat and said it believed Erdogan could still fall short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a presidential runoff on July 8.
“Our people have given us the job of carrying out the presidential and executive posts,” Erdogan said in a short national address, even as votes were still being counted.
“I hope nobody will try to cast a shadow on the results and harm democracy in order to hide their own failure,” he added, clearly aiming to preempt opposition complaints of foul play.
Erdogan, 64, the most popular but also the most divisive politician in modern Turkish history, later waved to cheering, flag-waving supporters from the top of a bus in Istanbul.
Sunday’s vote ushers in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdogan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.
Erdogan’s victory paves the way for another five-year term, and under the new constitution he could serve a further term from 2023, taking him to 2028.
An unexpectedly strong showing by the AK Party’s alliance partner, the nationalist MHP, could translate into the stable parliamentary majority that Erdogan seeks to govern freely.
“This sets the stage for speeding up reforms,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted of the results.
In early trading in Asia the lira currency firmed modestly versus the dollar on hopes of a stable working relationship between president and parliament.

OPPOSITION DOUBTS
Erdogan’s main presidential rival, Muharrem Ince of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) urged election monitors to remain at polling stations to help ensure against possible election fraud, as final results came in from large cities where his party typically performs strongly.
With 99 percent of votes counted in the presidential race, Erdogan had 52.5 percent, well ahead of Ince on 31 percent, broadcasters said.
The opposition raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the figures released by state-run Anadolu news agency, the sole distributor of the official vote tally.
However, an opposition platform collating its own vote tally from monitors based at polling stations around the country broadly confirmed the Anadolu figures.
Opposition parties and NGOs had deployed up to half a million monitors at ballot boxes to ward against possible electoral fraud. They said election law changes and fraud allegations in the 2017 referendum raised fears about the fairness of Sunday’s elections.
Erdogan said there had been no serious voting violations.
In Sunday’s parliamentary contest, the Islamist-rooted AK Party won 42 percent and its MHP ally 11 percent, based on 99 percent of votes counted, broadcasters said.
In the opposition camp, the CHP had 23 percent and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) 11 percent — above the threshold it needs to reach to enter parliament. The opposition nationalist Iyi (Good) party received 10 percent.
Election turnout nationwide was very high at around 87 percent for both contests, the state broadcaster said.
Erdogan argues that his new powers will better enable him to tackle the nation’s economic problems — the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year — and crush Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
Investors would welcome the prospect of a stable working relationship between the president and the new parliament, although they also have concerns about Erdogan’s recent comments suggesting he wants to take greater control of monetary policy.
Erdogan has declared himself an “enemy of interest rates,” raising fears he will pressure the central bank to cut borrowing costs after the election despite double-digit inflation.
He brought forward the elections from November 2019, but he faced an unexpectedly feisty challenge from Ince, a former physics teacher and veteran CHP lawmaker, who galvanized Turkey’s long-demoralized and divided opposition.
Turkey held Sunday’s elections under a state of emergency declared after a failed military coup in July 2016 Erdogan blamed on his former ally, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
It limits some freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with decrees, though Erdogan says he will soon lift the measure
Since the coup attempt Erdogan has waged a sweeping crackdown on Gulen’s followers in Turkey, detaining some 160,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent. He says his tough measures are needed to safeguard national security.