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Cambridge University under fire for threatening to cancel anti-Israel meeting

The University of Cambridge has been criticized for threatening to cancel and replacing the chair of a meeting about an anti-Israel movement.

The institution is now facing accusations of censorship following the Wednesday meeting which was related to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Ruba Salih from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) was supposed to oversee the event featuring Palestinian BDS activist, Omar Barghouti, but organizers said they had been forced to cancel Salih’s participation hours before it was about to start.

They said the university officials had intervened by claiming they were worried about her neutrality.

Palestinian activists say the incident highlights the increasingly restrictive atmosphere for detractors of Israel on campuses across the UK.

“Removing a respected Palestinian academic as chair of a panel event based on an unsubstantiated assumption about her lack of ‘neutrality’, and in doing so bowing to external pressure from a pro-Israel lobby group, cannot be construed as anything other than a naked attack on free speech and, more particularly academic freedom,” Ed McNally, the Cambridge student who organized the event, told Al Jazeera.

Demonstrators marching for Palestine solidarity head towards Parliament Square, in central London on November 4, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Following the incident, hundreds of students and academics signed an open letter slamming Salih’s removal as chair of the event.

Meanwhile, a university spokesperson told Al Jazeera that the institution is “fully committed to freedom of speech and expression”.

Salih said she had not received any explanation from the university about their decision.

“I don’t know the exact terms under which my role as chair was defined as inappropriate for the debate, and which narratives the university has used for the forced replacement of the chair,” she said.

A number of other universities in the UK have already banned their students from holding events in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

 

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