Oxford societies have attacked the decision to invite former deputy prime minister of Israel, Dan Meridor, to talk at Christ Church.
The Oxford Amnesty International Group supported an open letter from the Oxford Students’ Palestine Society condemning the Oxford Israel Forum, the PPE society, and the International Relations Society for hosting the speaker.
The letter was also signed by multiple individual SU campaigns, including Oxford Climate Justice and the Oxford Arab Cultural Society.
The letter read: “For over 30 years Meridor has been party to grave breaches of international law while holding office; acts which violated the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
“We find it deeply distressing that this individual representing the Israeli regime should be given a platform in Oxford, especially by student societies that were established to enlighten and educate students about international affairs.
“Meridor’s inpunity for these heinous war crimes are contrary to our university’s core purposes, and our student community’s commitment to justice and equality.
“We wish the Palestinian people, who are struggling for their rights with great dignity, to know that we do not extend him an invitation; and to tell them that Meridor is not welcome at our University.”
The Oxford University Palestine Society told Cherwell: “The letter was written for two reasons.
“The first was to explain the reasons why it was such a terrible thing to do, so that members of the hosting societies, however few in number they are, can learn some facts about whom they were welcoming.
“One hopes if they had known this individual record, they would reject any association with him, or complicity in inviting him.
“The second is because the Palestinian people are now facing terrible human rights violations. When we thought of them hearing about Oxford doing such a shameful thing, it made us want to let them know, at the very least, that most of us here are appalled that some students could be so callous, and so ignorant, as to extend an invitation to this individual.”
The Oxford Israel Forum told Cherwell in a statement: “Free and respectful dialogue is the only path to a lasting solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“That certain factions seek to bully into silence guests invited to the University is a very sad state of affairs.
“No evidence was provided for the vitriolic accusations made against Mr Meridor, because there is none. He is known and respected internationally for his dovish views.
“The statement issued against him, with its outright defamation, betrays the true agenda: to end constructive discussion and silence speakers, not because of their views, but because they come from the only Jewish State.
“The Oxford Israel Forum is proud to stand in defiance of this baseless hatred and in support of freedom of speech.”
The PPE and the International Relations Society said in a joint statement: “Hosting speakers does not equate to endorsing them or their views.
“An important part of the educational process is having one’s views challenged.”
Meridor has spoken at numerous UK universities this month. His speech at King’s College London this month was met with protest.
A King’s College student, Rebecca Wright, told Cherwell: “I do think it’s disappointing that Jewish students’ feel like this is a violation of their freedom of speech. I think there would have been more respectful methods, but the way they’ve done it certainly has gained a lot of publicity within the university and beyond for their cause.”
Additional security measures were implemented for the talk at Oxford. Meridor told Cherwell in regard to the King’s incident: “I expected it but I think it’s totally wrong, they called me a war criminal.”
He added: “There was shouting outside and some background noise but it’s only part of a free society that people have a right to shout. The problem is not that they demonstrated, they have a right to demonstrate if they don’t agree with them.
“The problem is that rather than talking, they demonstrate, rather than discussing things with us and coming in and asking me questions that are serious questions and hearing my response and agreeing – you know, this is a better way to solve problems.
“With these guys nothing will help, there was always anti-Semitism in Europe and it is present in many places but many people aren’t anti-Semites, many criticisms of Israel I think it’s legitimate to criticise us (sic). I think when you criticise this government or that government it’s fine if you do it in a normal way – say we don’t agree with your policy here, can we discuss it further.
“This is something we don’t do to any other country, why do we single it out? If we don’t agree with Britain we criticise what they do but we don’t say that Britain shouldn’t exist. This is something I don’t accept.”
The national branch of Amnesty International also condemned other speakers invited by the Israel Forum. Shortly after delivering his speech at Oxford in January, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, was banned from a London branch of Amnesty International.
The event he was supposed to speak at, a debate on the UN Human Rights Council’s treatment of Israel, was cancelled.
Amnesty International said: “We do not think it appropriate for Amnesty International to host an event by those actively supporting settlements.”