Academic conference on Israel
Sir, – It is disappointing and worrying that University College Cork has decided to prevent the academic conference “International Law and the State of Israel” from taking place at the end of March.
This appears to be part of a broader pattern of attempts to suppress debate on Israel and Palestine across Europe. In Germany, events critical of Israeli policy have frequently been cancelled over the last few years. Jewish critics of the Israeli occupation appear to be a particular target.
For example, in 2009 a lecture by Israeli historian Prof Ilan Pappe, author of the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, was cancelled by the Munich municipality after objections from the “German-Israeli Association of Munich”. In response Prof Pappe wrote an open letter to the mayor, stating that “in the 1930s my father, a German Jew, was silenced in a similar manner, and I am saddened to discover the same censorship in 2009”.
In 2014 a scheduled talk on Gaza by American journalist Max Blumenthal, author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, and his Israeli colleague David Sheen was cancelled in Berlin after Volker Beck MP, chairman of the German-Israeli parliamentary group of the Bundestag, wrote to the venue, claiming that their talk would serve “to promote anti-Semitic prejudice” (despite the fact that both writers are Jewish).
In 2015 an exhibition in Cologne by Breaking the Silence was cancelled after protests by the Israeli Embassy. Breaking the Silence is an organisation of former Israeli soldiers who document the actions of their own army in the occupied territories.
In August 2016 an exhibition of paintings by Palestinian children was cancelled in Heidelberg. The pictures had been painted in a trauma rehabilitation centre by children who had survived the bombing of Gaza. After receiving a letter of complaint by an unnamed organisation, the city administration of Heidelberg decided that it couldn’t display the pictures in public buildings.
In November 2016 an exhibition on the Nakba (the flight and expulsion of close to 800,000 Palestinians in 1948) in the University of Göttingen was repeatedly postponed after protests by pro-Israel students. Eventually the organisers had to look for another venue.
In December 2016 a German bank closed the account of Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. The bank acknowledged that its decision was politically motivated.
Recent events in Britain, as documented by Al Jazeera, show how an Israeli embassy official attempted to “take down” critics of Israeli policy, including government ministers.
Freedom of speech is an essential right; we should not permit its erosion. – Yours, etc,