Our lecture series ‘Tel Aviv at 100: 1909-2009’ began last term and followed the normal pattern of lectures that we organise around a theme each year.
Professor Joachim Shlöer of Southampton University started the series when he spoke about his academic studies on the history of Tel Aviv. The Palestinian Ambassador, Professor Manuel Hassassian, formerly of Bethlehem University gave a paper on ‘Tel Aviv and Ramallah: The Next 100 Years’. Professor Reuven Snir, an anti-Zionist Israeli Professor from Haifa University spoke about Arabic literature in Israel. This term, academics from Tel Aviv University were due to speak on the same theme on non-contentious subjects such as architecture and music. The first lecture this evening is by Professor Anita Shapira, on of Israel’s leading historians on the early history of Tel Aviv.
It is therefore terribly unfortunate that these lectures, planned months ago, have coincided with the terrible events in Gaza.
Any call for cancelling this series will be seen as not based on opposition to the centenary, but on the participation of Israeli academics. A resurrection of the attempt to boycott academics simply because they are Israeli regardless of their opinion about the tragedy in Gaza. SOAS as an institution and the British government have always strongly opposed and condemned such a boycott.
Academic institutions rightly do not suppress different narratives and different opinions. Its ethos is that the violence of the street should not be brought into the classroom. On a personal level, it is something that I hold to dearly and even if I am in a minority of one, I will adhere to this and not bow to any intimidation.
I have never called for the cancellation of a lecture at SOAS even if the views expressed were not to my liking – such as the participation of a Hezbollah representative in a recent conference or the talk, given by the hijacker, Leila Khaled in the past.
In the ten years that I have been at SOAS, I have always worked hard for my students, regardless of their opinions and background. I will continue to do this.
I hope that colleagues will not discriminate against students whose opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict they do not agree with.
These are difficult times for all of us. I am grateful to the many colleagues – whether they share my views or not – who have contacted me. Let us hope that the killing ceases this week and we can attempt to rebuild the bridges between us.