Manchester University reportedly censored the title of a talk given by a Holocaust survivor on campus for Israel Apartheid Week this year, after Israeli diplomats intervened and argued that the title of the address, “You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me,” amounted to anti-Semitic hate speech.
According to a report in The Guardian this weekend, a survivor of the Budapest ghetto, Marika Sherwood, was expected to address students at the university in March on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, as a guest speaker for the week-long event, backed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Israel Apartheid Week is held on university campuses around the world.
The paper reported that prior to the talk, Israel’s ambassador to the UK Mark Regev and civil affairs attaché Michael Freeman paid a visit to the university, after which organizers placed a ban on the “unduly provocative” title of the address and imposed a number of conditions before the talk could proceed.
Freeman wrote to Westlake following their meeting, thanking him for the sit-down and asserting that the title of Sherwood’s talk breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which the UK adopted late last year.The February 22 meeting between the Israeli diplomats and the university’s head of student experience, Tim Westlake, yielded an email exchange since made public by the Information Commissioner’s Office which demanded that “all correspondence between the University of Manchester and the Israeli lobby” between February 1 and March 3 be disclosed.
Freeman said that Sherwood’s address and expected talks by two other speakers for a separate event “cause Jewish students to feel uncomfortable on campus and that they are being targeted and harassed for their identity as a people and connection to the Jewish state of Israel.”
“I would be grateful if you could look into these events and take the appropriate action,” Freeman told Westlake.
“We welcome debate and discussion and see it as an essential part of a healthy democracy and open society. In the case of these two particular events, we feel that this is not legitimate criticism but has rather crossed the line into hate speech,” Freeman went on.
The day after the email, according to the report, an organizer for Israel Apartheid Week, Huda Ammori, received an email from a university official saying that Sherwood’s title for the talk “is not to be permitted, because of its unduly provocative nature.”
The talk went ahead under a revised title.
Ammori said told the Guardian that “in educational institutions there shouldn’t be any sort of lobbying from foreign governments. You couldn’t imagine them sitting down with the Saudi embassy for an event about what’s going on in Yemen.”
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy denied that the meeting between embassy officials and the university amounted to lobbying and said of Sherwood’s talk that “comparing Israel to the Nazi regime could reasonably be considered anti-Semitic, given the context, according to IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which is accepted by the British government, the Labour party, the NUS [National Union of Students] and most British universities.”
Sherwood told the paper that she rejected the assertion that the title amounted to hate speech.
“I was just speaking of my experience of what the Nazis were doing to me as a Jewish child,” she said. “I had to move away from where I was living, because Jews couldn’t live there. I couldn’t go to school. I would have died were it not for the Christians who baptised us and shared papers with us to save us.”
“I can’t say I’m a Palestinian, but my experiences as a child are not dissimilar to what Palestinian children are experiencing now,” she said.