No individual should be silenced because of their nationality. At universities, especially, where communities are as diverse as their political opinions, it should be self-evident that all individuals have the freedom to speak, and to debate in an environment free from intimidation and the fear of being silenced.
However, at the University of Exeter this week we were reminded that not all students think this way. Some wish to shut down free debate if it involves an Israeli.
On Monday 24 October 2016, Dr Yaron Brook, economist and Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute was prevented from giving a lecture at Exeter University entitled – wait for it – ‘Free Speech and the Survival of Western Culture.’ Anti-Israel students shouted ‘Free, Free Palestine’, ‘Shame on you! Shame on you!’ and ‘Palestine should be Free!’ until the lecture was moved to an alternative venue. You can see a short video a colleague from Exeter University Friends of Israel society took below.
What was his crime? Dr Yaron Brook was not hosted by the Friends of Israel society, nor was his message related to Israel. An Israeli-born American, Dr Brook has a history of being highly critical of Zionism. Indeed, he has been a prominent critique of Israeli policies in the past.
So what was it that motivated a group of anti-Israel students to infiltrate and attempt to limit his freedom to speak?
His nationality. He is Israeli-born.
Chanting of ‘Free, Free Palestine’ to stop Dr Brook from speaking, they showed us that all Israelis, whatever their viewpoint, whatever they have come to campus to speak about – in this case libertarianism – are people who must be silenced.
Those who shouted down the Israeli see no value in debate, in persuasion, in convincing others of the truth of a position, in compromise. Israelis and Palestinians, to reach a two state solution, need all of that.
They demonize and vilify. Whatever they intend, they do not bring peace or statehood closer for the for Palestinians. They are more interested in the destruction of Israel.
If the mere presence of an Israeli-born academic is enough to shut down a lecture unrelated to Israeli policy, then we are dealing not with justice, but with prejudice.
It is our duty, as students and as individuals to affirm that university must never be a place, now or in the future, in which Israeli students, academics or indeed anyone else, can be subjected to fear and intimidation simply for their nationality. So let’s invite more Israeli speakers to campuses across the UK in defiance of those who seek to judge a person not by what they say, but the nation from where they come from.
Jonathan Farrell, Exeter University Friends of Israel Society President