MPs conclude there’s ‘no free speech crisis in University’ during debate

MPs conclude there’s ‘no free speech crisis in University’ during debate

Israel supporters claim Commons discussion result “fails to appreciate” challenges faced by supporters of the Jewish state

Sam Gyimah
Sam Gyimah

A committee of MPs and peers has concluded that there is no “free speech crisis” in universities, as has been suggested in the media, but Israel’s supporters in the UK say this “fails to appreciate” concerns regarding Israel.

It follows a debate late last week after publication of the Joint (House of Lords/House of Commons) Committee on Human Rights report, presented to the new Universities Minister Sam Gyimah.

The committee had sought to understand whether government policy was coherent given that universities are legally compelled to secure freedom of speech, while the Prevent Duty Guidance says they should not provide platforms for extremist views.

The panel – which included Lord (Harry) Woolf, a former Chancellor of the Open University of Israel – referred to disruption at University College London and King’s College London in 2016, where anti-Israeli protesters disrupted events organised by the Friends of Israel societies. Likewise, there was disruption at pro-Palestinian events held at the London School of Economics (LSE) in March 2017 and the School of Oriental and African Studies in November 2017.

UK Lawyers for Israel argued pro-Israel events were disrupted “on many occasions”, with the knock-on effect being that “the cost, time, administrative burden and need to protect people from hostile protests leaves students who run such societies… put off from hosting events”.

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