Can you imagine a ‘Jewish furore’ if Professor Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, was invited to speak at a London university? Can you imagine the Jewish community writing in uproar to the university’s vice-chancellor asking them to ban him? Can you imagine Jewish representatives warning of “substantial distress and harm” if, God forbid, he were allowed to speak to students about the Middle East?
You can’t imagine it, because it wouldn’t happen. So why is it, when Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev is invited to speak at SOAS University in London this week, does all hell break loose? Why, when it’s Israel, are there all manner of open letters and dire predictions of the violence Regev’s visit will bring?
We support free speech and argue for it. As long as there is a debate about Israel and the Middle East that is not an obvious veil for modern-day anti-Semitism, we will be there. Likewise, we support greater understanding of the problems facing Israelis and Palestinians, so we support representatives of Israelis and Palestinians being allowed to explain their various perspectives.
It is the only way we will learn, and it is the only antidote to extremism.
That is why we are so worried about the efforts to cancel Regev’s SOAS visit this week, and why we have been impressed that SOAS (as yet) has refused to do so, especially given that it is known for the anti-Israel views of its student body.
If it goes ahead without incident, it will be a major credit to all concerned.