From left to right: Omar Barghouti, Malia Bouattia, Asad Rehman, Paul MylreaCambridge University Palestine Society

Cambridge University Palestine Society has released an open letter condemning the University's decision to “interfere” in an event organised for this evening, in what it called “an intolerable violation of academic freedom by a self-styled global leader”.

The panel event, entitled ‘BDS [the boycott, divestment and and sanctions movement against Israel] and the Globalised Struggle for Palestinian Rights’, was due to be chaired by Dr Ruba Salih, an academic from SOAS

However, the letter claims that the University stepped in to request that Dr Salih was removed from the event and replaced by an “independent” chair who “does not have the same political views as the other panellists”. The University’s director of communications, Paul Mylrea, was given responsibility for chairing the event.

The letter continued, “It is deeply concerning that the University has attempted to suppress this event through aggressive institutional intervention. In doing so, it risks being seen to side with those who seek to silence the voices of the marginalised, and raises questions about the extent of its commitment to free speech.

“Such behaviour belies the University’s stated commitment to ‘light touch’ implementation of the government’s draconian Prevent legislation.”

In a statement to Varsity, PalSoc said “Cambridge University Palestine Society strongly opposes the heavy-handed, authoritarian intervention by University management in the panel  on human rights hosted this evening with Omar Barghouti, Malia Bouattia and Asad Rehman. With merely hours notice, management demanded we remove our chair, Dr Ruba Salih of SOAS, and instead accept their communications director as a ‘neutral’ chair, threatening to cancel the event if we did not comply.

“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 racialised insinuation, sends deeply disturbing signals about the prevalence of institutionalised discrimination at Cambridge. Similar events at LSE last night raise the same concerns.

“The University's behaviour today casts significant doubt on their trumpeted commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom, and highlights disappointing complicity in the government's censorious Prevent agenda."


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The letter has thus far accumulated over 150 signatories, including academics from the universities of Leeds, Warwick, Westminster, SOAS, LSE and Trinity College Dublin.

Other signatories include former CUSU Women’s Officer Waithera Sebatindira and former CUSU Education Officer Roberta Huldisch.

The letter states that opposition to the panel event came from a letter campaign organised by the pro-Israel lobby group StandWithUs, and rested “on a litany of potentially libellous and bigoted accusations of racism” against panel members and organisers.

The University released a statement saying “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 organisers 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."