Testimonial by Professor Neve Gordon, QMUL
A few months ago, the School of Law at Queen Mary, University of London invited Omar Barghouti of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to give a talk on November 7, 2023. The talk’s topic was academic complicity with Israel’s crime of apartheid as it has been documented by several human rights organizations, including Al Haq, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
An invitation was uploaded to the Eventbrite platform, sent to the School of Law mailing-list and shared on social media, as we commonly do with School events. The description stressed that “the talk addresses the importance Palestinians have attached to non-violent forms of solidarity in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality.” Following the Hamas massacre on October 7 and Israel’s war on Gaza, Barghouti changed the talk’s title to “Carnage in Palestine: Oppression, Complicity and Ethical Responsibility,” but left the description intact.
Several days later, on October 26, we received an email notifying us that “Eventbrite is committed to providing a safe, inclusive, and respectful platform for live event discovery. We have the discretion to remove any content we determine violates our Community Guidelines or Terms of Service. This includes all forms of discrimination and hatred rooted in Anti-Semitism.”
Eventbrite, a private corporation with no apparent statutory obligations to academic freedom, then proceeded to deplatform the event, even as Barghouti’s talk was about academic complicity with apartheid and non-violent resistance.
Luckily, we still had access to the contact information of the people who had registered for the event, and the university centre that had invited Barghouti—the International State Crime Initiative—immediately switched the platform from Eventbrite to Zoom. The event ended up taking place as planned, with scores of people in the audience.
This incident, however, exemplifies the kind of clampdown currently taking place against speech related to Palestine and Palestinian human rights. It reveals that the current attack on academic freedom and freedom of expression is orchestrated not only by governments, but also corporate actors. It also demonstrates how, in order to silence speech on Palestine, these actors brand utterances about academic complicity with Israel’s war on Gaza as antisemitic hate speech.
This is a dangerous moment for anyone invested in democratic traditions of deliberation and debate, while the best way to meet this challenge is to be pushing back.
Read Testimonial 6 in our Palestine Uncensored series →