University of Vienna cancels talk with Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi

University of Vienna cancels talk with Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi
The University of Vienna has cancelled a lecture by prominent Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi, forcing the event online amid widespread criticism
3 min read
16 May, 2024
University students of the University of Vienna stage a support rally for Palestine during the third day, despite the counter-demonstration of a group of pro-Israel protests in Vienna, Austria on May 8, 2024. [Getty]

 The University of Vienna in Austria has been criticised following the axing of a talk headed by Palestinian-American historian Rashid Khalidi this week. 

In a statement posted on the university’s website, Vienna University’s Department of Development Studies announced that Khalidi’s lecture on Tuesday, titled ‘Ongoing Nakba? The War on Gaza and its Historic Roots’, was set to be cancelled. 

The department said that the decision was made by the University’s rectorate, headed by its rector Sebastian Schütze, adding that the event would be held online only. 

Helmut Krieger, the chair of the Department of Development Studies, said that the university was "suppressing" critical voices.

"The rectorate’s decision not only illustrates once again a repressive understanding of academic freedom including teaching, but also makes clear how much it fears an open and differentiated debate on the war on Gaza on campus itself," he said in a statement. 

"By defending academic freedoms, I emphasize again that fear and suppression of critical voices can never be part of a university that has yet to be democratized and decolonized."

Further concerns were also expressed on social media by supporters of Khalidi.

"The [University of Vienna] continues its battle to censure anything that could represent a critique of Israel," BDS Austria wrote in a post on X. 

"This time it has cancelled the room where the conference of Columbia Prof. Rashid Khalidi was going to take place. Better to silence students than letting them think and discuss..."

Onur Inal, a postdoctoral researcher at University of Vienna, reported that over 600 people attended Khalidi’s lecture on Zoom, while up to 200 others stood outside the university’s lecture halls while under police surveillance. 

The University of Vienna did not immediately respond to the backlash, and has not said why it cancelled Khalidi’s lecture. 

It also did not reply to a request for comment by The New Arab by the time of publication.

Following the controversy, staff members and students of the University of Vienna's Department of Near Eastern Studies, released a statement to share their support for the Palestine solidarity encampments at the University- as well as calling on the institution to divest from Israel.

Regarded as one of the leading historians on the Middle East, 75-year-old Khalidi is a prominent pro-Palestine voice in the Western world. 

He currently serves as the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

Activists and peers rallied behind Khalidi earlier this year, after calling out US economist Lawrence Summers for conducting a smear campaign against the famed academic. 

Summers, who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations and was formerly president at Harvard University, said in January that many people see Khalidi as being antisemitic, and accused Harvard of failing to confront alleged anti-Jewish sentiment on campus amid anti-war protests. 

The post elicited widespread backlash, with Associate Editor of Newlines Magazine Idrees Ahmad calling the comment "cowardly" and "defamatory" while journalist Mehdi Hasan said Summers was "casually smearing" Khalidi.