We are blind to the specks in our own eyes

January 18, 2018

Jonathan Rosenhead points out the double standard involved when a government responsible for the counter-terrorism Prevent strategy and apparently for tacitly supporting the closing-down of discussion on Palestine then threatens to fine universities that allow “no platforming” (“Double standards”, Opinion, 11 January). Rosenhead is right, but it works both ways.

The formal no platform policy is now accompanied by numerous “safe space” policies and speech codes. It is under these policies that we have seen, just in the past few months, Ukip MEP Bill Etheridge told that he can speak [at a university] only if he submits his speech for vetting in advance, paid “safe space” marshals in situ at a talk by MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, and academic Heather Brunskell-Evans have her invitation to give a lecture (at her own university) pulled after a remark on trans rights made on BBC Radio 4. In each case, “safe spaces” were invoked to justify the closure of free speech. In each case, lecturers have remained silent or actively supported these measures.

If Rosenhead and other academics want to call out the government on double standards, they need to look at their own.

Jim Butcher
Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences
Canterbury Christ Church University


There is nothing inconsistent about the laws applying to free speech in universities and to students. The Equality Act 2010 includes an obligation on universities to foster good relations between different groups. In summary, freedom of speech is what is left only after the law is taken into account – no harassment, defamation, hate speech, discrimination and incitement to violence.

Given the evidence of exposure to terrorism in our universities, it is hard to object to the motive behind the Prevent policy. The Prevent guidance requires universities to ensure that where there are speakers with extremist views on terrorism or preachers of non-violent extremism, that they be challenged with opposing views at the same event, rather than be banned from speaking.

I did not say, as Jonathan Rosenhead asserts, that certain British universities were “no-go” areas for Jewish students – that was a Daily Telegraph sub-editor’s embellishment. But the uncomfortable situation for Jews on campus has been reported on by the National Union of Students, the Union of Jewish Students, the Equality Challenge Unit and the Institute of Jewish Policy Research. Jewish students are now clustered in a far smaller range of universities than ever, and many find activities such as Israeli Apartheid Week and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement discriminatory, especially since no other country is so targeted. Why, with more justification, is there no Pakistan Honour Killing Week or Tibetan Occupation Week? The singling out of Jews/Israel and the falsification of history point to racism.

Rosenhead has been active in closing down dialogue – he interrupted a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in London in 2011, and supports an academic boycott that infringes on his students’ academic freedom and discriminates between them. Calling for the destruction of Israel with its 6 million Jewish inhabitants and close to 2 million Arabs, is plainly antisemitic so to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism is simply to pave the way for more of it, and has damaged the reputation of our universities.

Baroness Deech QC

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