Storm over planned visit of Israel’s Ambassador to SOAS

PNN/ Bethlehem/
The Israeli Ambassador to London, Mark Regev, is due to speak this Thursday April 27th at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Plans for the meeting have generated a storm of protest.

The Director of SOAS, Lady Valerie Amos, has received letters from 32 SOAS student societies, and from over 100 of the college’s academic staff asking her to intervene to stop the meeting. Palestinian students at SOAS have written asking her whether their names will be supplied to Israeli security for vetting prior to the meeting. They express concern that attending and voicing criticism at the meeting will expose them to retaliation from Israeli officials when they return home, or go to Israel or Palestine to conduct research.

Now 52 senior academic figures from across the UK have written to the Director echoing these concerns, and deploring the failure to halt the meeting.

The signatories express concern is that this is a political event not an academic presentation, and that the format of the meeting allows for no effective challenge to the Ambassador’s views. SOAS should not offer a propaganda opportunity on behalf of state that is in defiance of multiple UN resolutions, and responsible for the systematic violation of human rights.

Mark Regev first came to prominence as Israel’s principal spokesperson at the time of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-9. Since that time English-speaking audiences have regularly experienced his skill in ‘spinning’ justifications for the killing and maiming of Palestinian civilians, and the use against them of high-tech but indiscriminate munitions.

The concerns of staff and students at SOAS, and now of the wider academic community, is that those who wish to challenge Mr Regev’s views will have no effective way of so doing. Moreover, the security surrounding the arrangements for the meeting make attendance at the meeting impossible for any critics who may need to visit Israel or Palestine for research, or who are Palestinian staff or students who live in the territory. In these circumstances, the academics argue, holding this meeting constitutes a violation rather than a defense of academic freedom and of freedom of speech.

Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, speaking for the organisers of the academics’ letter, said “Holding this meeting at SOAS, where staff and students have voted overwhelmingly in support of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, and in support of Palestinian rights, seems like a deliberate provocation”.