Belfast Telegraph

Queen’s University cannot allow free speech to be stifled

It is arguably our foremost seat of learning, a place (supposedly) of enlightenment where free discourse and debate is encouraged and freedom of speech enshrined.

But is Queen’s University now becoming a cold house for speakers of the Jewish/Israeli persuasion?

First up was the disgraceful incident where a Jewish academic, Professor Geoffrey Alderman was invited to join a panel of speakers at a Queen’s Festival event — only to have the invitation later withdrawn.

Despite Queen’s paying for his flights from England and for accommodation at the Europa Hotel the invite was suddenly rescinded by e-mail.

Professor Alderman understandably said he felt “personally insulted”. He did receive an apology from Queen’s authorities. But he added at the time: “I still have not had an adequate explanation as to why the invitation was withdrawn.”

Now comes a second even more troubling incident where an Israeli legal expert invited by the university to give a lunchtime lecture on international law has had to abandon it after only a few minutes, is taken from the building flanked by security and has had his taxi attacked.

Equally concerning is that friends who were with him had to flee to another part of the building fearing for their own safety.

Ironically in the few minutes he was able to speak before he was interrupted by protesters from the Palestine Solidarity Society and Ogra Sinn Fein, Solon Solomon, a former member of the Knesset’s legal department had criticised Israel.

As one of the organisers pointed out, international law is “steadfastly apolitical”. Time had also been set aside, she added, for questions and constructive debate after the lecture.

Queen’s authorities can’t be blamed of course, for the actions of protesters.

But surely they do not want the message to go out that the university tolerates such bullying tactics.

This is not actually an issue about being pro or anti Israel. It’s about being pro freedom of speech.

Queen’s, I imagine, would want to make clear that its stand on this is firm and unequivocal.

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