RESPONDING TO CENSORSHIP: FREEDOM, SPEECH AND ACTION

A workshop organized by FFIPP-UK (Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, UK) and Sponsored by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, was held on 14th May 2007 at Birkbeck College.

There is no summary of the discussion but some of the presentations, or papers on which they were based, are available:
Rosemary Bechler
Irene Bruegel
Robert Fine
Anthony Lerman

Rosemary Bechler produced a follow-up paper developing her position What’s in a definition?

Background

The invite to the seminar described its purpose:

Recent considerations of the definition of anti-semitism at the European and UK governmental levels have identified a relationship between anti-semitism and criticism of Israel. Reflecting developments in the U.S.A, the re-definition of anti-semitism to potentially include certain forms of criticism of Israel has brought issues of hate speech and racism on the one hand, and the freedom to engage in legitimate political critique, criticism and action on the other, into direct conflict. How best to respond to this recent move, which has the potential to effectively stifle individual and collective political action and critique in relation to Israel’s actions in Palestine?

The rise in anti-semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism frame the discussion about political debate and censorship. The reality of racism prompts us to move past the usual (liberal) discourses of freedom of speech and academic freedom. The question becomes how best to create the climate that enables robust and respectful political debate and meaningful critique. What material conditions are required to create such freedom? Is the notion of ‘academic freedom’ useful in this respect? How do we resist the censorship of political critique in the current chilly climate while moving beyond simple notions of ‘free speech’?

The aim of this workshop is to explore these questions from a variety of practical, strategic and theoretical perspectives. Short presentations will be made by a small number of speakers but the emphasis will be on exchanging ideas. To that end workshop participants are asked to read the following:

Report by the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, 2006
Government Response: press release; link to downloadable full document
Judith Butler Israel/Palestine: the paradoxes of academic freedom
Rosemary Bechler A Commentary on the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism
Tony Klug, A Tsunami of Confusion

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