UK university censors title of Holocaust survivor’s speech criticising Israel


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Damien Gayle — The Guardian Sept 29, 2017

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.”

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. Click to enlarge

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.

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.

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.”

The next day, a university official emailed Huda Ammori, the event’s organiser, with conditions. Academics chosen to chair the meetings were replaced by university appointees, publicity was limited to students and staff, and the organisers were told talks would be recorded.

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.”

The Sherwood event went ahead under a revised billing with the subtitle removed. She denied that the title of her talk could be characterised as antisemitic.

“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.”

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy said he did not recognise the meeting as lobbying, as meetings between embassies and universities were common. He noted that Freeman’s email welcomed debate and discussion.

On Sherwood’s talk, he said: “Comparing Israel to the Nazi regime could reasonably be considered antisemitic, given the context, according to IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, which is accepted by the British government, the Labour party, the NUS [National Union of Students] and most British universities.”

Manchester University said a free speech code of practice applied to all campus events involving outside speakers and controversial topics, and that officials checked relevant laws, including the Equality Act 2010, before approving them.

“In this case the university allowed the events to proceed in line with the requirements of the act and our commitment to principles of freedom of speech and expression,” its spokesperson said, without addressing the meeting with diplomats.

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