After Israeli Ambassador Intervened, U.K. University Made Holocaust Survivor Change Title of Speech

The speech at a BDS event at Manchester University by a Jewish survivor of the Budapest ghetto was initially to include the description 'you're doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me'

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University of Manchester's Old Quadrangle
University of Manchester's Old QuadrangleCredit: Mike Peel / Wikimedia Commons

The administration of the University of Manchester in England required a change to the advance description of a speech by a Holocaust survivor at an event sponsored by a BDS group after Israel's ambassador to Britain intervened, the Guardian newspaper website reported Friday.

The March speech by Marika Sherwood, a Jewish survivor of the Budapest ghetto was initially to include a description: "You're doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to me." After Ambassador Mark Regev and his civil society affairs attache intervened, the university barred of the title and imposed a number of conditions on the holding of the event, the Guardian reported on Friday.

The speech by Sherwood, whom the Jewish Chronicle of London identified as a historian, was one of a number of events organized in March for Israel Apartheid week by Manchester University's student Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions committee.

"The Israeli diplomats visited Manchester on 22 February and met the university’s head of student experience, Tim Westlake. Later that day in an email, Michael Freeman, the embassy’s counsellor for civil society affairs, wrote to Westlake and thanked him for discussing the 'difficult issues that we face,' including the 'offensively titled' Israeli Apartheid Week," the Guardian reported.

Calling the initial title of Sherwood's talk anti-Semitic, Freeman also made accusations of anti-Semitism against two speakers at a separate campus event.  “Both of these events will cause Jewish students to feel uncomfortable on campus and that they are being targeted and harassed for their identity as a people and connection to the Jewish state of Israel,” Freeman told Westlake, according to the news website. “I would be grateful if you could look into these events and take the appropriate action.”

The correspondence surfaced after the university was required to disclose it by Britain's Information Commissioner’s Office, which has responsibility for the country's Freedom of Information Act. In his email, Freeman, of the embassy, wrote: “We welcome debate and discussion and see it as an essential part of a healthy democracy and open society. In the case of these two particular events, we feel that this is not legitimate criticism but has rather crossed the line into hate speech,” according to the Guardian.

For her part, the organizer of the event, Huda Ammori, said: “In educational institutions there shouldn’t be any sort of lobbying from foreign governments. You couldn’t imagine them sitting down with the Saudi embassy for an event about what’s going on in Yemen.”

Sherwood, the Holocaust survivor, denied that the initial billing for her talk could be construed as anti-Semitic.  “I was just speaking of my experience of what the Nazis were doing to me as a Jewish child,” she said. “I had to move away from where I was living, because Jews couldn’t live there. I couldn’t go to school. I would have died were it not for the Christians who baptized us and shared papers with us to save us. I can’t say I’m a Palestinian, but my experiences as a child are not dissimilar to what Palestinian children are experiencing now,” the Guardian reported.

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy said: "Comparing Israel to the Nazi regime could reasonably be considered anti-Semitic, given the context, according to the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's] working definition of antisemitism, which is accepted by the British government, the Labour Party, the NUS [National Union of Students] and most British universities."

Manchester University said a free speech code applied to all campus events involving outside speakers and controversial topics and that the university also consulted "relevant laws, including the Equality Act 2010," in setting the guidelines for the event, the Guardian said.

Weighing in last year on Brexit, British voters' decision to leave the European Union, Marika Sherwood was quoted by the Australian daily the Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "The British education system reinforces prejudice," adding: "It reinforces the notion that it's only England or Britain that matters, that exists, that has a history, that ever invented or discovered anything. There's a lot of wars, our kings and queens and how fantastic they were and how many wars they won [against European nations]."  

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