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Israeli Embassy Balfour celebration at British university condemned by students

Image of a mock wall representing the apartheid wall in the West Bank during Israel Apartheid Week by the student-led BDS campaign at the University of Manchester on 3 March 2017 [BDS Campaign University of Manchester/Facebook]
A mock apartheid wall by the student-led BDS campaign at the University of Manchester on 3 March 2017 [BDS Campaign University of Manchester/Facebook]

Student societies at the University of Manchester have sent an open letter to the institution's President and Vice-Chancellor, calling for a celebration of the Balfour Declaration co-organised by the Israeli Embassy to be cancelled. In their letter addressed to Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, the students said that they had been made aware of the university's plans to celebrate 100 years since the Balfour Declaration on the evening of Tuesday 31st October with the Israeli Embassy and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain.

Protesting against the university's ongoing relations with the Israeli embassy the students asked Professor Rothwell, "Is the University oblivious that the event you will be hosting will celebrate the Declaration that led to the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and the destruction of over 400 villages during Al-Nakba in 1948?"

The letter was signed by nine different student societies, including anti-racism activists. They rebuked the university over this demonstration of its ignorance concerning the history of the Balfour Declaration. "Is the University unaware that the Balfour Declaration ultimately led to massacres of innocent people, and the ongoing illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for 50 years?" the students complained. "This perverse celebration compounds the University of Manchester's existing institutional and investment links with Israeli institutions complicit in war crimes."

The letter reflects a growing strain in relations between student bodies and the management team who seem unwilling to move on the university's ties with Israeli institutions. Last month, students discovered that it was bowing to Israeli pressure and censoring free speech. MEMO revealed that a meeting between university officials and the Israeli ambassador took place days before an event during Israel Apartheid Week. Emails seen by MEMO showed that the University of Manchester adopted a tougher line against critics of Israel following a meeting with the embassy. Students complain that the university has prioritised its commercial relations with Israel over its duty to the students and their right to learn in an atmosphere that encourages freedom and protects student security.

Read: The Balfour Declaration Destroyed Palestine, Not the Palestinian People

The students' gripe with the University of Manchester management became public last March when nearly eighty academics wrote an open letter to Professor Rothwell to lift her disciplinary actions against two students campaigning against the university's investments and collaborations with companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Balfour event is seen as adding insult to injury.

Celebrating the Balfour Declaration, which opened the way for Palestinian dispossession and ethnic cleansing, makes "a mockery of the suffering of the Palestinian people, and is greatly disrespectful for Palestinian students at the university who have, alongside their families, been forced to live their entire lives under the boot of the Israeli army," the students told the Vice Chancellor. "Would you not consider for a second listening to Palestinian students' experiences as they relay a life of having their university bombed by Israeli F16s, losing university classmates to Israeli snipers or having their whole house demolished to be expelled for not being the desired ethnic group by Israel leaders?" The planned celebration of the Palestinians' loss, they insist, illustrates the appalling double standards and disdain the University is showing towards Palestinian students and Israel's abominable treatment of them.

MEMO contacted the University of Manchester about the decision to host an event celebrating the Balfour Declaration. "The University allows some of its premises to be hired by third parties for external events, provided that the events in question comply with the University's Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech," replied a spokesperson. "This event is one such commercial booking and it has no connection to, nor is it endorsed by, the University."

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