Wolfson College has been accused of a “disgraceful” suppression of free speech after cancelling a talk from a prominent anti-Zionist at the last minute.
Dr Taj Hargey, the chairman of MECO (Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford), had organised a talk from Rabbi Ahron Cohen. The title of the talk was “Zionism is not Judaism-Anti-Israelism is not Anti-Semitism”.
According to Dr Hargey the talk was organised months ago, but was only cancelled by officials at Wolfson College on Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours before the event was scheduled to take place.
The talk was quickly reorganised however, eventually taking place at St. Edwards School on Woodstock Road.
Rabbi Cohen is a member of the Neturei Kart, an ultra-Hasidic sect of Judaism which is deeply opposed to Zionism. Dr Hargey points that he is not necessarily anti-Zionist, but believes in the power of free speech.
“This man with views that are contrary to the conventional popular view should be given a hearing.”
“This is a disgraceful episode in the history of Oxford University, when we allow a group of people to say ‘no, you can’t come’.”
Hargey claimed the talk was cancelled on “the pretext that MECO hadn’t given advanced identity of the speaker”.
However, MECO have a long history of holding talks at Wolfson, and have had a number of prominent speakers at the college over the past 5 years. MECO claims to have followed exactly the same protocol that they have used in the past.
A spokesman for Wolfson College defended the decision, saying that “the booking was not made transparently.”
“Wolfson supports free speech, and is happy to host speakers of all opinions. However, where a speaker is likely to be controversial or provocative, or has the potential to cause offence to college members, it is the college’s policy to discuss among the Governing Body whether and how to hold the event, including whether opposing voices should be included in the event.”
He added, “As this speaker was booked under the identity of a college member who knew nothing about the booking and the real identity of the speaker became apparent only yesterday, there was no opportunity to hold these discussions.”
Israeli Cultural Society President James Fox said he didn’t feel that Wolfson’s actions had violated freedom of speech.
“It seems that calling it a suppression of free speech might be a convenient excuse for MECO’s lack of compliance with Wolfson College’s own procedures. “
The talk went ahead at St Edwards School on Thursday evening. The location of the talk, which was attended by more than 60 people, was kept secret until a few hours before the debate.
Dr Hargey has recently won a 3 year libel court case after being branded a heretic. He wants to bring reforms to the Muslim society, and often encourages females and males to pray together. He also brought a female imam to Oxford to lead prayers on one occasion.
He commented that the cancellation of the talk was the day that “free speech lost and censorship won.”