SOAS Community Condemns Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev’s Visit

Originally published on April 23rd by Naomi Wimborne-idrissi.

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”.

ENDS

Texts of letters to the Director of SOAS, Baroness Amos:

1. from 52 concerned UK academics
2. from over 100 members of the SOAS academic community
3. from Palestinian students at SOAS
4. from 32 student societies at SOAS (including the Israel Society)

1. From 52 UK academics

Dear Lady Amos,

The signatories of this letter, academics at universities in the United Kingdom, deplore the planned meeting at SOAS to be addressed by Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, on April 27th.

We are staunch defenders of free speech, and especially on campus. Indeed it is commonly the Palestinian cause that suffers from effective censorship – brought about by pressure and sometimes implicit threats of violence from supporters of Israel. These pressures have recently been added to by the Government’s adoption of a contentious ‘definition’ of antisemitism designed to conflate that ugly form of racism with legitimate criticism of Israel and the promotion of BDS. We feel that everyone benefits from open debate in which the arguments attempting to justify Israel’s policies can be heard and challenged; we are confident that such exposure can only help recruit open-minded participants to the side of the Palestinians.

There are two factors that make the projected meeting an exception to this rule, however. The first is that the format of this meeting does not permit Regev’s case, such as it is, to be subjected to any scrutiny. More importantly, there is Regev himself. He is the official representative of a Government that is in violation of countless United Nations resolutions, and which routinely and for 50 years has denied human rights, including that of national self-determination, to the Palestinians. He is notorious as the public face of that Government, defending with chilling sophistry the indefensible murder of thousands of Palestinians in repeated assaults on Gaza.

We are aware of at least 32 SOAS student societies, from the Afghan Society through the Men’s Football Club to the Transnational Diplomacy Society, and notably including the Israel Society, which have called on you not to permit this meeting. We are aware of the joint letter from 18 current Palestinian students at SOAS, who detail concerns over the threat to their personal safety, given the arrangements for the meeting, and indeed over the potential impact on their future freedom to pursue their academic research were they to attend the meeting and engage with the Ambassador. And we are also aware of a letter to you from over 100 members of the academic community at SOAS who also object in the strongest terms to this meeting.

We urge you to listen to their voices, and to ours.

Dr Mark Abel, University of Brighton
Dr Anne Alexander, University of Cambridge
Professor Gautam Appa, LSE
Professor Mona Baker, University of Manchester
Professor Oren Ben-Dor, University of Southampton
Dr Cathy Bergin, University of Brighton
Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck University of London
Professor Bob Brecher, University of Brighton
Professor Haim Bresheeth, SOAS
Dr Adrian Budd, London South Bank University
Professor Alex Callinicos, Kings College London
Dr John Chalcraft, LSE
Dr John Cowley, City University
Professor Wolfgang Deckers, Richmond University
Dr Nadia Edmond, University of Brighton
Professor Michael Edwards, University College London
Dr Rayah Feldman, London South Bank University
Dr Jonathan Gilhooly, University of Brighton
Professor David Graeber, LSE
Professor Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Peter Hallward, Kingston University
Professor Kamel Hawwash, University of Birmingham
Tom Hickey, University of Brighton
Dr Karolin Hijazi, University of Aberdeen
Professor David Johnson, Open University
Dr Paul Kelemen, University of Manchester
Dr Brian Kelly, Queens University Belfast
Professor Caroline Knowles, Goldsmiths University of London
Professor Michael Lavalette, Liverpool Hope University
Dr Les Levidow, Open University
Prof Malcolm Levitt FRS, University of Southampton
Professor Moshe Machover, Kings College London
Professor Philip Marfleet, University of East London
Dr Mazen Masri, City University
Professor Marj Mayo, Goldsmiths University of London
Dr Patricia McManus, University of Brighton
Professor Klim McPherson, University of Oxford
Dr Carlo Morelli, University of Dundee
Professor Martha Mundy, LSE
Professor Malcolm Povey, University of Leeds
Dr Haris Rashid, University of Dundee
Professor Hilary Rose, University of Bradford
Professor Steven Rose, Open University
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, LSE
Dr Anita Rupprecht, University of Brighton
Professor Andrew Samuels, University of Essex
Professor Bill Schwarz, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Suleiman Sharkh, University of Southampton
Professor John Smith, University of East London
Dr Mayssoun Sukarieh, Kings College London
Dr Tony Whelan LSE
Dr Waseem Yaqoob, University of Cambridge

2. From over 100 SOAS staff

Dear Director Amos

We are writing to you to express our dismay at the decision of SOAS management to approve an event on campus on 27 April 2017, at which the Israeli Ambassador, Mark Regev, is scheduled to speak and in which Israeli embassy security will be involved.

We fear that if this provocative event proceeds as planned, it will cause substantial distress and harm to many of our students and staff, who are, have been or will be affected by the actions of what a recent UN report refers to as the Israeli “apartheid regime”. The event could further cause serious tension on campus and result in a charged atmosphere that will be detrimental to the well being of all faculty, staff, and students.

Liaising with the Israeli embassy on such an event, despite the continuation of Israeli policies to deport and ban entry of SOAS staff and students because of their views on Israel, including legally penalising support for BDS, is an affront to the SOAS community. The presence of Israeli security on campus in particular is intimidating to our Arab and Palestinian students. The secrecy involved in the organisation of this event (which appears to include the last minute announcement of fake and then real venues) is inconsistent with the values of free speech and transparency that educational institutions should honour.

The decision to allow this event reiterates management’s complete disregard for democracy and the express wishes of the majority of staff and students at SOAS. Not only has SOAS management refused to implement the outcome of the BDS referendum, on the basis of what we consider to be a serious misunderstanding of applicable legal rules and standards, but is now welcoming to SOAS an official representative of the Israeli state, who is a vocal and well known apologist for Israeli crimes in Palestine.

In light of this, we wish to make clear that we are utterly opposed to this event, or to any event which seeks to normalise the actions of the Israeli state or any other repressive regime, taking place on our campus. We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and the majority of the SOAS community, in their resistance to the ongoing crimes committed by Israel, and in the fight for justice for the Palestinian people.

Yours sincerely,

Reem Abou-El-Fadl
Gilbert Achcar
Marta Agosti
Nadje Al-Ali
Sameen Ali
Sabiha Allouche
Carolina Alves
Rochana Bajpai
Samia Bano
Leyli Behbahani
Carrie Benjamin
Brenna Bhandar
James Brown
Joe Buckley
Bob Burns
Enrique Castañón Ballivián
Senija Čaušević
Shyamal Chakma
Peter Chonka
Christopher Cramer
Sila Demirors
Ourania Dimakou
Ahmed El-Shareif
Nada Elzeer
Sai Englert
Saliha Fellache
Veronica Ferreri
Alaya Forte
Nelida Fuccaro
Jonathan Goodhand
Zoe Goodman
Frances Grahl
Muchtar Habibi
Hassan Hakimian
Vanja Hamzić
Adam Hanieh
Rachel Harrison
Sian Hawthorne
Stephen Hughes
Feyzi Ismail
Salwa Ismail
Karen Iversen
Carol John
Safa Joudeh
Tania Kaiser
Andrew Kennedy
Laleh Khalili
Fujiko Kobayashi
Maria La Falce
Mark Laffey
Jens Lerche
Jay Lingham
Mahnaz Marashi
Thomas Marois
Sara Marzagora
Dina Matar
Akanksha Mehta
Pedro Mendes Loureiro
Alessandra Mezzadri
Owen Miller
Marco Mogiani
Matthew Murphy
Suthaharan Nadarajah
Kathryn Nash
Nithya Natarajan
Eleanor Newbigin
Sandy Nicoll
Kerem Nisancioglu
Peter Niven
Paolo Novak
Paul O’Connell
Yoriko Otomo
Hassan Ould Moctar
Aisha Phoenix
Dan Plesch
Sharri Plonski
Tim Pringle
Navtej Purewal
Lauren Pyott
Parvathi Raman
Aditya Ramesh
Rahul Rao
Gwenan Richards
Pallavi Roy
Alfredo Saad-Filho
Muaadh Salih
Ruba Salih
Florian Schaefer
Timon Screech
Shreya Sinha
Sara Stevano
Farooq Sulehria
Nimer Sultany
Kristin Surak
Mayur Suresh
Nydia Swaby
Mehroosh Tak
Tania Tribe
Charles Tripp
Alyosxa Tudor
Lewis Turner
Elisa Van Waeyenberge
Rachel Watson
David Wearing
Leandro Vergara-Camus

3. From Palestinian students at SOAS

Dear Baroness Amos,
We the undersigned are eighteen Palestinian students at SOAS, writing to share with you our concerns about an upcoming event taking place on our campus. It has come to our attention from several sources that the Israeli Ambassador will be speaking at SOAS on the 27th of April.
We understand that in discussions with the Student Union, the SOAS administration has stated that this visit can go ahead and that whatever risks there are will be mitigated. Unfortunately, SOAS Palestinian students and staff were not consulted as part of the risk assessment for the event.
Mark Regev is a well known former spokesperson for the Israeli state who came to international prominence through his defence of the brutal and repeated attacks on the Gaza Strip, including the many violations of human rights and international law carried out throughout these operations.
We are extremely concerned that the decision to host the Ambassador of Israel did not take into account our safety and concerns. The Ambassador will be accompanied by armed Embassy security personnel (whether the arms are concealed or carried openly), and we genuinely fear for our safety given their presence on campus. These security personnel report to the Embassy security officer rather than to our School. There is nothing stopping them from collecting intelligence on us (or any other student or staff member) or even using violence or threatening violence against us.
By allowing the Israeli Ambassador to speak without making adequate arrangements will result in the School failing to uphold its basic duty of care towards its students, particularly those of Palestinian origin. The environment that Mr. Regev would create on our campus for the event is unsafe for us as Palestinian students, many of whom have suffered directly at the hands of the Israeli security services. Indeed, you will be aware that a number of current staff and students are currently being denied entry into Israel/Palestine, despite repeated efforts by the school to address these questions. Students wishing to attend a public event on their own campus will be subject to the same questioning and searching they suffered living under military occupation in Palestine. It is unconscionable that SOAS should permit these forms of oppression to be replicated on our campus.
Furthermore, the proposed event takes place in conditions that make freedom of speech and academic freedom impossible and thus contravenes the school’s policy. Indeed, the code of practice for the booking and conduct of events states:
However, freedom of expression may not be exercised if in so doing it breaks the law or breaches the rights of others, such as if its expression is unlawfully discriminatory or threatens others’ safety or freedom of expression.
Yet, Israel’s latest “anti-boycott law” (among many other repressive measures) stipulates that individuals publicly supporting BDS, or of a boycott of settlements, can now be denied entry into the country, this includes Palestinian residents in Israel who hold foreign passports. Not only is this law a further breach of free speech, but it also puts SOAS students and staff – the majority of whom supported the BDS referendum – in an extremely precarious situation.
As Palestinians, we in particular would risk our ability to enter Israel/Palestine and meet our families if we chose to express our political views, critiques of human rights abuses and the ongoing Israeli occupation. This effectively means we would be excluded from such an event and would not be able to exercise our freedom of speech. This is a very real risk posed
to Palestinian students and staff, many of whom have been denied entry into Israel. It would mean that, for a period of time, SOAS management would turn our campus into an extension of Israel’s military occupation by allowing students to be monitored and have their rights trampled on.
The recent and ongoing Parliamentary inquiry by the Foreign Affairs Committee’s into the the Israeli Embassy’s senior staff’s attempt to “take down” British parliamentarians and Cabinet Ministers because of their views on Israel, only illustrates the seriousness of these concerns. Indeed, in the undercover investigation conducted earlier this year, it was revealed that students in particular have been targeted by staff from the Israeli Embassy.
Furthermore, this visit and lecture by the Ambassador is no celebration of freedom of speech. The Ambassador is not visiting or speaking in his individual capacity. He is coming here as the official representative of a state that is engaged in serious and ongoing violations of international law, and the persecution of members of our SOAS community. We find it shocking not only that SOAS management should permit this event to go ahead, but that in doing so it has taken no measures to prevent the extension of an oppression colonial apparatus onto our campus.
It is clear that the event is inconsistent with the School’s own guidelines and codes. The procedure in which the decision was taken, the failure to consider the basic welfare of SOAS students and staff, and the very real repercussions on the SOAS community – make the decision to host the event flawed and one which will have serious repercussions for safety of students.
We would therefore appreciate a response in writing to the following questions:
How will SOAS management guarantee that Palestinian students and staff members will be able to participate in the event without any repercussions to their residency rights or rights to enter Israel/Palestine?
How will SOAS management guarantee that SOAS staff and students will be able to participate in the event without any repercussions to their ability to enter Israel/Palestine and carry out research there?
How will SOAS management guarantee that any details regarding the attendees of the event will not be collected or shared with the Embassy especially since they have used such details in the past to breach human rights and deny entry to students and staff?
Can SOAS management detail the exact control the Embassy will have on the event, its practicalities, and the proceedings on the day?
Can SOAS management, considering they have approved the risk assessment for this event, please detail if this included the impact and implications of recent Israeli legislation on SOAS staff and students?
Has the management conditioned the holding of this event with the discontinuation of the Israeli retaliatory policies against SOAS staff and students, such as the 10-year ban on Dr. Adam Hanieh’s entry?
Will the School allow or prevent the outside filming of this event?
Will the school protect the information of the students who register for ticketing and guarantee that Israeli authorities will not have access to this information?
And finally, we request full information of the risk assessment conducted by management and the SU.
We look forward to your speedy response in writing by Tuesday 11th of April.
Sincerely Yours,
Palestinian students at SOAS

4. From 32 student societies at SOAS

SOAS Community Statement: Apartheid Off Campus

It has come to our attention that the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, will be coming to SOAS on the 27th of April at 19:00. Mr Regev is a well known former spokesperson for the Israeli state who came to international prominence through his defence of the brutal and repeated attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip, including the many violations of human rights and international law carried out throughout these operations.

Firstly, Mr Regev will be speaking at our University as an official representative of the Israeli state, not in a personal capacity. He is being given the cover of an academic setting to put forward official state positions on the on-going expansion of illegal settlements, the siege of Gaza, land thefts, and discriminatory laws imposed on Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is not an academic debate, informed by fact and reason, it is an official exercise in state propaganda.

This comes flying in the face of a landslide (73%) SOAS vote that included the entire SOAS community, contract staff, academic staff and students, in favour of endorsing the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) guidelines, explicitly state the refusal to host official representatives of the Israeli state.

The response to the announcement of the event only confirms the SOAS community’s stance. For example, over 100 members of the academic staff have already signed a statement rejecting Mr Regev’s presence on campus.

Secondly, through allowing this event to take place, the school is failing to uphold its basic duty of care to staff and students, Palestinians in particular. Israel’s latest “anti-boycott law” stipulates that individuals (both foreign nationals and Palestinians who hold foreign passports) who publicly support the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) for justice and equality, can be banned entry into the country.

This law is a blatant breach of free speech and academic freedom. It puts SOAS community in an extremely precarious situation, especially since a number of current staff and students have been denied entry into Israel/Palestine. This is despite the repeated efforts by the school to address these questions of academic freedom. Additionally, this law is yet another example of many attempts to dehumanise Palestinian narratives and criminalise movements and individuals striving to hold Israel to account for its violations of international law and human rights.

The environment created by this event is unsafe for Palestinian students, many of whom have suffered directly at the hands of the Israeli security services. The Ambassador will be accompanied by armed embassy security personnel (whether the arms are concealed or carried openly). Many students fear for their safety with Israeli security personnel roaming our campus. Palestinian staff and students would be subject to the same questioning and searching they suffered living under military occupation in Palestine should they attend a public event.

Thirdly, SOAS management cannot guarantee that this event will take place within the acceptable boundaries of academic freedom and free speech, free from intimidation of all participants. The School has ignored a letter of concern by Palestinian students who asked how the School proposes to guarantee that information about attendees will not be passed on to the embassy through the ticketing mechanism, and how the School proposes to deal with the presence of armed security personnel on campus. It is completely abhorrent that SOAS administration has stated that this visit can go ahead without consulting Palestinian students and staff as part of the risk assessment for the event. Effectively excluding Palestinians from this event.

Indeed, in their latest correspondence to staff, SOAS management claims to be upholding the right to free speech while also taking into account the concerns of all those affected by the event. It is clear that this is not the case as SOAS administration has effectively ignored letters from staff and Palestinian students and refused to engage with Palestinian students especially.

In response, the SOAS community calls on all students, trade unionists, and concerned individuals who believe in the importance of democracy, the right to academic freedom, educational environments free from intimidation and physical threats, and justice for the Palestinian people to join the ‘Apartheid Off Campus’ day on the 27th April in the afternoon at SOAS. A day where the SOAS community will celebrate its diversity and struggles with teach-outs on resistance movements, the situation in Palestine and their relevance in the UK today from 16:00.
Signed:
• SOAS Decolonising Our Minds Society
• SOAS Justice For Cleaners
• SOAS Fractionals For Fair Pay
• SOAS Labour Society
• NUS Black Student Campaign
• SOAS LGBTQ Society
• SOAS Syria Society
• SOAS Palestine Society
• SOAS Israel Society
• SOAS Islamic Society
• SOAS Iraqi Society
• SOAS Ahlubayt Islamic Society
• SOAS Transnational Diplomacy Association
• SOAS Men’s Football Club
• SOAS Against Human Trafficking
• SOAS Canadian Society
• SOAS Kashmir Solidarity Movement
• SOAS Afghan Society
• SOAS Teach First Society
• SOAS Albanian Society
• SOAS Martial Arts Society
• SOAS Spoken Word Society
• SOAS Kurdish Society
• SOAS MENA Society
• SOAS Goes to Calais
• SOAS Ceilidh Band
• SOAS Herb Society
• SOAS Origami society
• SOAS Shia Theology Society
• SOAS East Africa Network
• SOAS Yemen society
• SOAS India Society
• SOAS Mehfil e Urdu

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