The University of Manchester has censored the subtitle of a Holocaust survivor’s speech
It was entitled ‘You’re doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me’
It has emerged that the University of Manchester censored the subtitle of a Jewish Holocaust survivor's speech after intervention by Israeli diplomats.
Marika Sherwood, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, was due to speak at the university in March as past of Israeli Apartheid Week. The talk, originally subtitled "You're doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me", was about Israel's modern day treatment of Palestinians.
However, after a visit from Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador on 22nd February, the university contacted the event's organisers to officially ban them from using the "unduly provocative" title.
The information was disclosed after the Information Commissioner's Office forced the university to release "all correspondence between the University of Manchester and the Israeli lobby" to a student.
In an email exchange between Michael Freeman, the Israeli embassy's counsellor for civil society affairs and Tim Westlake, the university's head of student experience, Freeman accused the speech of violating the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism. He also complained that two other speakers, booked for a separate event, were anti-Semitic.
"Both of these events will to [sic] cause Jewish students to feel uncomfortable on campus and that they are being targeted and harassed for their identity as a people and connection to the Jewish state of Israel. I would be grateful if you could look into these events and take the appropriate action.
"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."
As a result, the event organiser Huda Ammori, International Business, Finance and Economics third year and leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign received an email from the university, ordering her to amend the title of the speech and setting out conditions for it to be given:
"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."
The conditions for the talk to be given included the replacement of academics chosen to chair the meetings with university appointees and the limitation of publicity. Huda was also told that the talk would be recorded.
In a statement to the Tab, Huda said: "By entertaining Israel's demands, the university is complicit in collusion with Israel over events organised by the BDS student campaign. Many students at the university are of Palestinian origin, and such meetings with the Israeli embassy over a campaign in support of Palestinian human rights is a mockery of the suffering Palestinians have faced under Israel's apartheid regime and violates all 'social responsibility' ethics preached by the University of Manchester.
"The university has prioritised a foreign government over the welfare of their own student community. The university should not entertain lobbying from any foreign government."
However, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy said that meetings between universities and embassies were common and did not consider this email exchange or meeting to be 'lobbying'.
In a statement, he said: "Comparing Israel to the Nazi regime could reasonably be considered antisemitic, given the context, according to IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism which is accepted by the British government, the Labour party, the NUS [National Union of Students] and most British universities."
Marika Sherwood was still able to give her talk but under the conditions set by the university and with the subtitle removed. She said that the talk could not be considered as anti-Semitic:
"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."
In a statement, the university said: "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."
However, in response, Huda and other members of the BDS Campaign have organised a protest on 4th October, demanding the university end its ties with Israel.