Guardian frames university’s stance against racism as “censorship” by the Israel lobby

The Guardian frames events at the University of Manchester not as a reasonable attempt to avoid creating a hostile environment for Jewish students, but through the predictable lens suggesting the nefarious influence of a free-speech stifling 'Israel lobby', a distortion which speaks volumes about the media group's continuing double standards when covering allegations of antisemitism. 

The headline of a Sept. 29th Guardian article by Damien Gayle includes the following accusation of “censorship” despite the fact that the facts of the case do not support such a loaded accusation.

The article begins thusly:

Manchester University censored the title of a Holocaust survivor’s criticism of Israel and insisted that her campus talk be recorded, after Israeli diplomats said its billing amounted to antisemitic hate speech. Marika Sherwood, a Jewish survivor of the Budapest ghetto, was due to give a talk in March about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, headlined: “You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me.” But after a visit by Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, and his civil affairs attaché, university officials banned organisers from using the “unduly provocative” title and set out a range of conditions before it could go ahead.

Students had booked Sherwood to speak as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of events organised by the university’s student committee of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Though the title was indeed changed, because the Israel-Nazi accusation was seen as contravening the Working Definition of Antisemitism (adopted by the British government), there was never any effort to cancel or alter the event itself – despite the extremely controversial nature of the proposed anti-Israel talk.

So, who was responsible for “censoring” title? The narrative centers on the requisite target – the Israeli lobby:

The Israeli diplomats visited Manchester on 22 February and met the university’s head of student experience, Tim Westlake. Later that day in an email, Michael Freeman, the embassy’s counsellor for civil society affairs, wrote to Westlake and thanked him for discussing the “difficult issues that we face”, including the “offensively titled” Israeli Apartheid Week.

Mentioning the title of Sherwood’s talk, Freeman said it breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. He also made accusations of antisemitism against two speakers booked for a separate event, citing tweets and their refusal to condemn antisemitic behaviour.

The correspondence emerged after the Information Commissioner’s Office forced Manchester to disclose to a student “all correspondence between the University of Manchester and the Israeli lobby” between 1 February and 3 March. The release included Freeman’s email.

In that email, Freeman wrote: “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.”

Ammori was told: “For ‘A Holocaust survivor’s story and the Balfour declaration’ the use of the title or subheading, ‘You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me’ is not to be permitted, because of its unduly provocative nature.”

Ammori said: “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.”

First, it’s of course quite hypocritical for pro-Palestinian students in the UK to lecture pro-Israeli activists on denying free speech given their own recent history of bullying, violence and intimidation towards pro-Israeli speakers on campus

But, there’s also an important moral issue. Let’s conduct a brief thought experiment:

Imagine if the title of a talk at a US university by a right-wing speaker on the topic of race included the words “Why blacks are lazy”?  Or, what if a UK university lecture on the issue of jihadist terror was titled ‘Why Islam is an inherently violent religion’?  There seems to be little doubt that, in both situations, administrators would likely step in to admonish the groups sponsoring the event, and insist that the inflammatory titles be changed?  Furthermore, it seems clear that ‘progressive’ media outlets wouldn’t castigate them for engaging in “censorship” of the hateful rhetoric. 

Accusing Israel of behaving like Nazis (often termed “Holocaust inversion“) is at least on par with the anti-black and anti-Muslim rhetoric cited above.  It’s codified as antisemitic hate speech  in part because it’s an intellectually unseriousness charge, one motivated by the desire to delegitimize the only majority Jewish state, and to inflict maximum pain upon Jews.  It’s hard to even fathom a more hateful charge against a people who experienced genocide than saying you and your coreligionists are behaving like the sadistic, totalitarian mass murderers who wiped our your ancestors. 

Yet, the Guardian frames events at the university not as a reasonable attempt to avoid creating a hostile environment for Jewish students, but as an ‘ominous’ example of the nefarious influence of a free-speech stifling ‘Israel lobby’, a distortion which speaks volumes about the media group’s continuing double standards when covering allegations of antisemitism. 

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