After gaining Guild approval in principle for a theatrical performance outside the Forum, Friends of Palestine had their event cancelled by the university over “safety and security issues”. Exeposé understands that the university has not previously exercised its power to ban a student-society event. The society is now appealing the decision and is planning a march in protest against it for Monday 27th February at 12:30.
A letter issued by the university Registrar and Secretary, Mike Shore-Nye, explained the decision as a step intended to prevent the unlawful discrimination or harassment of staff and students, despite acknowledging the right to free speech and legitimate protest.
Friends of Palestine had planned a street theatre piece to be performed outside the Forum on Monday 27th February. The performance was to simulate the experience of Palestinians crossing the checkpoint, with actors dressing as Israeli soldiers, constructing metal barriers on campus, and treating students who volunteered to go through the checkpoint as they would Palestinians.
The society hoped to raise awareness regarding their position on checkpoint human rights violations. They intended to act out prepared scenarios based on real checkpoint encounters. To allow students to pass without interacting with the performance, it was agreed the checkpoint was not to extend beyond 50% of the entrance width on the Forum Piazza and was to be over 10m away from the entrance.
The event was due to mark Israeli Apartheid Week, “an international series of educational events that seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s illegal occupation, apartheid policies and decades long settler-colonial project” according to the War on Want website.
‘The Checkpoint’ had been approved in principle by the Guild after a risk assessment in which potential concerns such as intimidation, anti-Semitism, use of military uniforms, disabled access, and other student safety issues had been addressed and mitigated.
With regard to the cancellation of the event, a Guild Spokesperson said:
In supporting a wide range of societies with differing viewpoints, the Students’ Guild strives to create academic freedom of expression and an environment of respect for individuals, communities, faiths or nationalities. The Guild approved the Check Point event to go ahead for these reasons and is disappointed that it has been cancelled.
The university over-ruled this Guild approval in a letter on Thursday 23rd February after the event was reviewed at a University Event Referral Panel. Friends of Palestine are appealing this decision. However, it is impossible for the event to go on as planned and will at least need to be rescheduled if the appeal goes through.
The decision follows national news coverage of an Exeposé story reporting the discovery of a swastika carved into a door and a “Rights for Whites” sign in a University halls of residence. Last term Exeposé reported anti-Semitic slogans at a social claiming “the Holocaust was a good time”.
Friends of Palestine believe the University’s decision to ban ‘The Checkpoint’ is politically motivated and released a statement to Exeposé:
In their communication with us, the university has given no substantial reason for this ban. They have implied that our interactive street theatre piece would be guilty of ‘antisemitism or other forms of unlawful discrimination or harassment’; this is a charge we wholeheartedly deny.
Every member of Friends of Palestine and every person who was to take part in the performance, stands resolutely against all forms of racism and discrimination, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. No part of our performance was to have made reference to race or religion. Supporting the Palestinian people means opposing all forms of oppression, racism, and fighting every breach of international law.
Our society has conducted this through educational and culturally-based activism. The ban of our street theatre performance has taken place as our campus has descended into an atmosphere in which a Palestinian and Muslim student recently elected to Guild positions has been bullied and abused in a vile campaign.
In addition, our performance has been censored whereas pro-Zionist events are allowed to go ahead without any hindrance, demonstrating the fallacy of the university management’s claims of impartiality. We demand the right to go ahead with our creative and educational performance in support of the Palestinian people, and demand also an apology from the university over its defamatory claims.
UPDATE: The appeal submitted by Friends of Palestine Society has been rejected by the University’s Provost, Professor Janice Kay, citing the following:
1. You recognize that the event was going to be held on “a busy part of campus, potentially posing an impact on students and staff”. You accept this is a legitimate concern and would have no objection to the event being moved to a different location. It’s my judgment that as the nature of the event is to engage with students and staff, it will potentially affect any access, regardless of location. I would note that the Guild and University make independent judgments. I do not accept this ground for appeal.
2. For the reason I have given above, there are reasonable grounds for concern that the event may cause safety and security concerns. While you have taken some action in terms of the risk assessment, by its nature there is an unpredictability of outcomes. I do not accept this ground for appeal.
3. You explain the nature of the event and give extracts from the risk assessment. It is my view that the statements with regard to explanation and lack of compulsion would be difficult if not impossible to assure. I do not accept this ground for appeal.
4. With regard to your point about the group, I do not find evidence to contradict the view that the original decision was made with all members of our university community in mind. I therefore do not accept this ground for appeal.
I have been asked to hear your appeal and do not find grounds to accept it.
UPDATE: The University has released a statement concerning the event, stating the following:
“The University of Exeter is committed to free speech within the law, and to allowing legitimate protest to take place on campus. We have an unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusivity. These qualities are at the very heart of who we are and what we both expect and demand of everyone associated with the University. In keeping with guidance from Universities UK, the representative organisation of UK universities, we believe that if protests take place on campus, consideration must be given to the location and prominence of planned events and their impact on the staff and student body, as well as the need to ensure that they do not restrict the ability of the campus community to move freely. The proposed Mock Israeli Checkpoint street theatre event was planned for a very busy part of campus where students and staff not only congregate but use as a thoroughfare to lectures. There are other events being hosted by the Friends of Palestine next week where there will be an opportunity for views to be expressed and debated in a safe and inclusive environment.”