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A complaint has been lodged to the Students’ Union against remarks made by external speakers at a joint event hosted by LSESU Feminist Society and LSESU Palestine Society on Tuesday night.
At Thursday’s UGM, General Secretary Nona Buckley-Irvine confirmed that a complaint had been lodged to the SU over the remarks, and that an investigation would shortly follow.
It has been alleged that one speaker at the event ‘Gender and Resistance in Occupied Palestine’ made remarks “glorifying” violence against Israeli soldiers. A report of the event which is being widely circulated on social media claims that the speaker praised specific acts of violence perpetrated by females against the state of Israel, such as a suicide bombing against an Israeli convoy in Southern Lebanon which killed two Israeli soldiers and injured ’10-12 more’, as “amazing”, “admirable” and worthy of a “standing ovation”.
The speaker, a writer for ‘The Electronic Intifada’, had previously tweeted at the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “@Netanyahu Chutzpah backfires. Learn the Paris lessons ;)” on January 14th 2015, a week after the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had been attacked by Islamist gunmen. A further tweet posted since Tuesday’s event, in response to the Israeli Defence Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner confirming the ‘sad news’ of the death of two Israeli soldiers in Hezbollah’s attack on the border with Lebanon, replied “sad for you :-)”.
Video footage attached to the article, meanwhile, shows a different speaker claiming that “rape for Israelis was almost a site of war against Palestinian women”.
The event was chaired by Aitemad Muhanna-Matar, an research fellow at LSE’s Middle East centre. Ms Muhanna-Matar told The Beaver:
“Within the concept of freedom of expression, any panellist has the right to present her analysis based on her own understanding, whether it satisfies or dissatisfies others’ reading and understanding of the topic of discussion. The panellist who spoke about Palestinian women who were involved in military resistance against the Israeli occupation has not invented something new… The speaker in the event glorifies women’s resistance against the military occupation and for the sake of freedom and justice but not violence against civilians. These resistance military actions were done in the western history by the IRA, during the American and French revolutions. At a lesser extent, Jews resisted against the Nazist kidnappers, but faced certain death, the same as Palestinians who committed violence against the Israelis certainly face certain death. This is how what is said in the event should be interpreted from the concept of resistance but not violence in vacuum.”
The LSESU Jewish Society last night lodged a formal complaint to the LSE Director Professor Craig Calhoun against Ms. Muhanna-Matar’s remarks to The Beaver, which they claim amount to an “anti-Semitic slur” under the terms of the motion condemning anti-Semitism that LSESU passed last week.
The LSESU Israel Society criticised the original comments at the Fem Soc and Pal Soc event, telling The Beaver that:
“We at the LSESU Israel society are horrified and deeply offended by statements made by speakers at the joint LSESU Palestine Society and Feminist Society event, entitled ‘Gender and Resistance in Occupied Palestine,’ on Tuesday 27th January, Holocaust Memorial Day. We condemn the incitement of hatred and glorification of terrorism by the speakers at this event. Advocating the slaughter of Israelis is a direct form of racism and must be dealt with by the university and the Student Union. We have received a number of complaints from students who feel intimidated and uncomfortable by a number of the comments made. Racism affects all students and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The LSE campus must be a safe space for all students. We would also like to make it clear that we support gender equality and the peaceful creation of a two state solution. We hope that the university and the Students’ Union will join us in condemning statements made at the event and will continue in their commitment to fostering a tolerant and safe environment on campus.”
The LSESU Feminist Society issued a statement that said “Having reviewed the statements, regarding applauding an attack against Israeli soldiers, made by a speaker at our event we apologise unequivocally on behalf of the Feminist Society. We give platforms to oppressed peoples, including those under violent occupations, but that does not mean that their views always reflect our own. The Feminist Society is truly regretful that we have caused offence.”
The Vice-President of the Feminist Society Lena Schofield told The Beaver “I wasn’t able to attend the event, so I’ve just heard about the complaints regarding the event at the UGM. I personally am regretful that we have caused offense. Femsoc will be cooperating with the Students’ Union’s inquiry, and if it’s clear that we need to apologise we will do so unequivocally.”
In an open letter to The Beaver, LSESU Anti-Racism Officer Esther Gross said that “The simple fact that someone was able to stand in front of an assembly of students and declare that it is legitimate to kill someone because of their nationality baffled me, and I could not understand how people who claim to fight discrimination could stand by such statements without a single objection.”
On Friday night, LSESU Black and Minority Students Officer Samiha Begum responded to Gross’ letter, arguing that “there is a problem with white privilege extending to having a white woman hold the post to undermine anti-racism struggles on campus, and launching a shamelessly racist attack trying to silence four women of colour speaking about their struggles and resistance”, and calling for a public apology.
On Friday morning, the LSESU Palestine Society issued the following statement:
“We were first made aware of the criticisms aimed at Tuesday’s ‘Gender and Resistance in Occupied Palestine’ event through an external blog post claiming that the event was celebrating Israeli deaths on the Holocaust Memorial Day. The nature of the blog and the cynical accusation that the event was deliberately held on the same day as the memorial drove us to believe that the article was an attempt to provoke tensions between two sides of a political discussion. The blog was written in an opinionated fashion, often implying false conclusion from words taken out of context.
Firstly, to claim that the speakers condoned the indiscriminate killings of Israelis due to their nationality is simply incorrect and is a view that was expressed in the LSESU’s Anti-Racism officer’s open letter. The actual statement referred to an act of resistance by Lebanese Sana’a Mehaidli in 1968 carried out on Israeli soldiers during the occupation of South Lebanon. The act of resistance was carried out solely on soldiers involved in an occupation and not random civilians meaning that the speaker did not applaud the “indiscriminate killing of Israelis through random acts of terrorism” but rather spoke of a legitimate armed struggle falling under the Palestinian right to resist a military occupier as resolved in the ‘Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960)’. Although the LSESU Palestine Society does not necessarily share the views held by the speaker, we maintain that she is entitled to them and is free to express her analysis on the issue, whatever that may be.
As the Anti-Racism Officer was not present at the event we can only assume she received information about the event from the formerly mentioned external blog. Consequently we are not surprised that she was “shocked” and “baffled” by the contents of the event as the blog summarises that Israelis were portrayed as rapists and those who killed Israelis were applauded – an exceedingly simplistic view that caused our Anti-Racism Officer to draw such conclusions. We are also still unsure, however, as to how one of the speakers managed to “openly weaponise rape”, as stated in the open letter. The speakers addressed the sexual violence that women are particularly vulnerable to in situations of conflict. A discussion surrounding the use of rape as a weapon of warfare in an event regarding gender is relevant, as it is a serious issue affecting women in conflict, which is recognised in UNSCR 1325.
The LSESU Palestine society does not intend to offend anyone on campus. We believe in freedom of expression and understand that opinions on such matters tend to be very diverse however we believe that the complaints regarding the event were in response to a provocative external report, which did not accurately depict the message the speaker attempted to portray. Nonetheless we would like to reassure students that we are working with the SU to resolve and clarify any complaints that may have been lodged.”
An LSE spokesperson said “The School is committed to free speech and academic debate but we are clear that this must be within the law and according to the School’s desire to cultivate an environment of mutual respect and foster good campus relations. LSE does not tolerate abuse, harassment, or speech which breaks the law. Most of the comments highlighted were made by speakers not affiliated with the School, with some comments attributed to the Chair, who is an LSE research fellow. LSE’s Students’ Union and its more than 200 societies organise a rich variety of events. Student-organised events of course do not represent the official views or priorities of the School. However, we trust our Students’ Union to investigate whether there has been a breach of rules. The School is also conducting its own investigation and will take appropriate steps wherever necessary.”