By Will Charley, Deputy Editor
A group of BME societies are set to protest an event on Israeli-British relations, after the University of Bristol refused to cancel it.
A coalition of BME societies will be protesting a Bristol University Conservative Association (BUCA) event today (Feb 10), in the belief that both invited external speakers should not be given a platform.
Panel event, ‘A Unique Military Alliance: Israel and the UK’, is scheduled to have British Colonel Richard Kemp CBE and Israeli Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser speak in Wills Memorial Building about UK relations with Israel.
Organised under the slogan ‘No to Imperialism and Apartheid’, protests are being
coordinated and supported by the BME Network, the Bristol Socialist Worker Student Society, the University of Bristol Islamic Society and the University of Bristol Friends of Palestine. The coalition believes that both speakers are offensive to the BME community and should not be given a platform.
Specifically, Colonel Kemp is opposed for contributing regularly to Breitbart and for being a Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, which has published articles such as ‘Europe: The Great White Death?’ Similarly, Brigadier General Kuperwasser is opposed by the coalition because of his former role as head of the research division of the Israeli Defence Force Military Intelligence Directorate.
In hosting this event, the coalition has accused the University of Bristol of failing in its duty to 'safeguard minority students' and in a separate statement, the BME Network has accused the University of taking a 'shameful and embarrassing position' by hosting the event.
The University denies these accusations. A spokesperson for the institution said that they understand 'the views of the speakers may be considered controversial, but we expect them to be discussed and debated in a measured way within the boundaries of an appropriately organised academic event.'
Last week, the BME Network launched a Change.org petition that demanded the University cancel the event. The University of Bristol refused to do so, with the spokesperson stating that the University is 'fully committed to freedom of speech and to the rights of all our students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics. We are also committed to being a place where everyone feels safe, welcomed and respected.'
A BUCA spokesperson has defended their panel, saying:
BUCA sought and received approval for Colonel Kemp CBE and General Kuperwasser to speak at the University of Bristol. At all times it respected and obeyed the policies of both the Students’ Union and the University of Bristol. If the Queen saw fit to invite Colonel Kemp to the palace to receive his CBE, we see fit to invite him to Bristol.'
The spokesperson added that:
'The Conservative Party has long supported Israel’s right to defend itself and the close bilateral relationship between our states has saved numerous lives through intelligence cooperation.
'We will not take lectures on Israel from individuals who have called for Israel to “cease to exist” and hosted inflammatory speakers.'
At the time of writing, 126 people have registered themselves as ‘interested’ or ‘going’ to the protesters Facebook event. The organisers have called for students to 'join our protest and stand in solidarity' and vowed 'No to imperialism. No to racism. No to apartheid. Justice for Palestine.'
The petition and subsequent planned protest have doubled security costs, which are arranged and mandated by the University, a source close to the organisers informed Epigram. However, the source also confirmed that both BUCA and the event remain unaffected due to ongoing external funding.
A spokesperson for the University said:
'The University supports the view of the European Court of Human Rights that freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and that such freedom is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received, but also to those that have the potential to offend, shock or disturb the listener.
'Intellectual freedom is fundamental to our mission and values. Our freedom of speech policy underlines the vital importance of our right to speak openly without fear of censorship or limitation, provided that this right is exercised responsibly, within the law, and with respect for others who may have differing views.'
The BME Network has accused Bristol Students’ Union of failing to abide by the APPG definition of Islamophobia which it adopted in June 2019. A Bristol SU spokesperson responded that:
'As a charity we are bound to uphold the law and allow freedom of expression, even where our views may differ from the speakers. The views of the speakers invited are not those of Bristol SU. Bristol SU's societies are bound by our code of conduct and we have reminded them of their obligations.'
Featured image: Epigram / Will Charley
Epigram will be reporting on the event and protests tonight. Check www.epigram.org.uk for the latest updates.