British students' union 'sabotaging Palestine solidarity events' say campaigners

British students' union 'sabotaging Palestine solidarity events' say campaigners
The University of Manchester Students' Union has denied that it is deliberately cancelling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign events and blamed the latest incident on an administrative error.
3 min read
09 February, 2017
A Palestinian flag at a protest at the University of Manchester [Ales Raposo - Facebook]
The University of Manchester Students' Union cancelled a Palestinian solidarity event this week, claiming it didn't receive enough notice - despite receiving an application a month in advance.

The university has a long-standing economic relationship with Israeli universities, and the cancellation - the latest in a series of last-minute changes - has been labelled an attempt to "sabotage" the boycott movement.

"I find this to be a clear violation of freedom of speech," said Huda Ammori, a University of Manchester student and member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

"As a Palestinian student, I am deeply disappointed in my institution in… their clear attempt to sabotage any educational events in favour of promoting Palestinian human rights."

The University of Manchester BDS Campaign had invited Geoff Lee from Red Card Israeli Racism to speak on campus on Wednesday evening, but the event was cancelled by the students' union at the last minute.

"Unfortunately, this is because we have not been able to process the application in time to be able to arrange security for the event due to the sensitive nature of the topic," a university representative told the event organisers by email.

The New Arab understands the organisers were able to reorganise the event to be held outside the university on Wednesday evening.

A Students' Union officer explained that this was down to an administrative fault - a "visiting speaker" form had not been submitted and the university was unaware it would need to lay on extra security to accommodate until the last minute.

When approached by The New Arab for comment on this cancellation, a spokesperson for the union, which represents around 42,000 students, said the cancellation was down to "human error".

"Officers from the Students' Union have today met with the BDS Campaign and jointly recognised that this oversight was down to human error in the process," said Rachael Townsend, communications manager for the Students' Union.

"Something which we are now looking to adapt for the future to ensure this does not happen again."

In response to the union's explanation, Ammori said she remained "sceptical".

"Even though the Students' Union said this was down to a human error on their behalf, we are still very sceptical about the truth of this and we believe this excuse is a result of external pressure from the media," said Ammori.

A subsequent press release from the campaign said it was "extremely concerned about the bias held by the university towards Israel".

The university has close economic links with Israeli institutions, as seen in a number of Memorandums of Understanding.

The university overruled the union in November 2015 when it allowed Eitan Na'eh, then-Israeli ambassador to the UK, to speak at the university - despite the formal objections of the Students' Union.

This is not the first time that a BDS campaign event has been cancelled in Manchester.

A previous meeting, co-inciding with the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, was cancelled by the university because of reasons connected to "freedom of speech".

"The event you have planned needs to be moderated and will need to ensure that both parties involved have the chance to express their views," a union representative then told event organisers by email.

"The event is also scheduled to take place on Yom Kippur which will mean inviting any of our Jewish student groups to join the debate will be very difficult.

"University security will need to be informed so they can ensure it goes ahead safely."

BDS campaigners at the university plan to continue raising awareness of Israel's near 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territories.