Response to Mark Aspinwall regarding protest at visit of Israeli ambassador

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Today the Head of Politics and International Relations at Edinburgh University, Mark Aspinwall, sent out an all student e-mail condemning the protests last night at the visit of the Israeli Ambassador, Daniel Taub. Below we publish this e-mail and a response to it by one of the protesters and by EUSA’s BME officer

Response to Aspinwall’s e-mail 1: 

Dear Gillian and Mark, It is quite frankly outrageous that you have chosen to send this out. It gives no opportunity to the protesters to voice their views and shows no empathy or understanding of the context – ethnic cleansing and apartheid. It is a one sided diatribe from someone who has a strong vested interest in this debate.

I also have a vested interest. I was one of the protesters. What shocked me was the heavy handed approach to policing on campus. What also shocked me is that Mark, according to university security chiefs, specifically asked that members of Students for Justice in Palestine should not be admitted entry. So much for free speech!

I spoke to a number of black and ethnic minority students, including the standing EUSA BME officer, who felt threatened at the fact that an apartheid representative is admitted on campus. Never mind the idea that a hundred cops is needed to bully and harass them.

Let me add that there is a long record of civil rights interruption of ambassadors and spokespersons for racist regimes on British campuses, going back to the 1960s. These views are presented with the air of an official statement. They are not. They are your views. You should be clear about this.

I must add that I am ashamed that this man was invited onto my campus. I am proud that Scottish universities stood up against Apartheid in South Africa. I am ashamed that tenured Professors here are apologists, whether they know it or not, for genocide.

There are other regimes out there with terrible human rights record. But you have chosen to break a global call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel issued by hundreds of human rights groups. You have crossed a picket line. And this will stand to your eternal discredit.

If you really favour free speech, and university security are liars, then perhaps you would permit me or a representative of SJP to issue a response to your position? Or better yet. Why don’t you go and share your views with the millions of Palestinian refugees who, unlike yourself, are voiceless in the corridors of power?

If you think you have a better way to liberate Palestine from 64 years of occupation, then please – share it with me. But “dialogue” with the oppressor has been tried. It has failed. You must know this. I urge you to live up to the responsibilities that your position and your salary warrant.

I sincerely urge you to withdraw your comments and apologise for your actions. You have brought shame on this university.

Yours sincerely, James Foley PhD candidate Department of Sociology

Response 2:

 Dear Professor Aspinwall,

 I am writing to you, in a personal capacity, to share my concerns about your recent conduct in relation to the hosting of an event with Daniel Taub.  I believe you have blurred the lines of your own responsibility by intruding in a divisive student debate.  Your intervention has been extremely unhelpful and has caused alarm to many BME students who have have approached me and asked me to take action on their behalf.  Insofar as you give no possibility for a right of reply, your remarks can be presented as victimization.

 

You have presented the event as if it was hosted by Edinburgh University.   I believe that this is not the case.  It was hosted by the Politics Society.  I urged them not to host it in a letter prior to the event.  My reason for this was partly moral, since they are breaking a global campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions.  Palestinians are denied a voice or a platform for their views, and you have done nothing to facilitate one.

 

It was also about safety.  It is highly divisive to invite a figure whose role is to defend a racial state widely accused of extrajudicial torture and ethnic cleansing.  Taub has gone on record declaring his support for Operation Cast Lead, in which the UN Factfinding Mission found evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.    With this in mind, I regarded the move as provocative for its own sake.

 

If this was just a matter between the Politics Society and the protesters, that would be one thing.  We could call it a legitimate disagreement about tactics.

 

But your intervention has turned the debate in another direction.  It has come to my attention that you intervened personally to attempt to ensure that pro-Palestinian students could not attend.  The event was presented as if it was for invited guests only.  It was not an exercise in free speech and open debate.  It was an orchestrated attempt to legitimize the Israeli narrative while giving no space for Palestinians to present their views.

 

To use your position, as Professor and Head of Department, to label students protesting for human rights as “extremists” is contemptible.  I have honestly never heard of anything like this.  This is not the sort of discourse befitting an academic in a social science department.  It is the sort of drivel I expect to read in tabloid newspapers.

 

Campus security have said that the politics department – not the Politics Society – was responsible for requesting the police, the searches, and the air of secrecy surrounding the event.  I must say that in all my years of student activism I have never seen anything like this, even in the anti-cuts movement.  As one student said to me, “It felt like a little bit of Israeli apartheid was brought onto campus.”

 

You have no right to use your position and perogative to label students extremists.  I urge you to retract your divisive comments immediately.  This is the best thing for the university’s reputation, and for the safety of students.

 

I also think that you should cease your heavy-handed intrusion in student matters.  This does not do you, or your department, any credit.  It appears as if you are using a student society as a sock puppet for your own views, even if that is not your intention.

 

I do not deny the right of the politics department to open up difficult issues to discussion.  But your actions in recent years have only shown one side of the narrative: the Israeli one.  You have made no attempt to give voiceless Palestinians a say.  In this sense you have become complicit in all the power relations and injustice in this issue.

 

I urge you to retract your position.

  Yours sincerely,

 Pete Ramand

EUSA Black and Ethnic Minorities Convenor

  • Aspinwall’s E-mail:

Hi everyone – Last night the University of Edinburgh hosted the Israeli Ambassador in a talk that was marred by continuous disruptive protests within the theatre. A small minority of students committed to silencing voices from the Israeli government created a situation in which the ability of others to voice their own opinions was made extremely difficult. Fellow students – some with critical views of Israeli policy – were simply unable to say what they had to say.

As a University we are committed to respecting those who are invited to speak in our institution. Freedom of speech is critical to an institution of higher education. Shouting down an Israeli Ambassador will not cause Israeli policy to change. It will (momentarily) stifle free expression and for that must be condemned.  Some very thoughtful students voiced alarm and indignation at what was taking place around them in the theatre. They came to participate in a civilized debate, and found themselves criticizing the protesters for closing down the opportunity to do so.  I very much endorse the post-event statement of the Politics and IR Society, which goes right to the heart of the issue (https://www.facebook.com/eupolsoc/posts/436869756370890?notif_t=like).

Two subsequent messages from students hit the nail on the head. One said ‘It is lamentable that the protesters would not even let Mr Taub respond to their points and it emphasised what I think is deeply concerning about the movement which they stand for; that it is against freedom of speech.’  Another said: ‘I think we can all agree that extremism, especially when it is aimed at silencing an opponent, is an unacceptable way to express oneself. This is particularly true for students of a university – an institution dedicated to academic and, by extension, political freedom.’

Best,

Mark Aspinwall

Mark Aspinwall Professor of Politics Head of Department of Politics and International Relations University of Edinburgh Chrystal Macmillan Building 15a George Square Edinburgh, EH8 9LD Scotland 44 (0) 131 651-1730 http://www.pol.ed.ac.uk/staff_profiles/aspinwall_mark

About weareallhanashalabi

Scotland's student movement for Palestine

10 comments

  1. According to the EU website there is a Prof. Mark Aspinwall who was previously a ‘Washington lobbyist for a consortium of shipowners’ and who ‘gives a twice-yearly talk to senior NATO officers..at the NATO Defence College in Rome.’ Promoting ethnic cleansers on campus fits with these parts of his CV.

  2. Roddy

    James Foley, PhD “candidate” – lol

  3. Gunther von Fuck you

    this is fucking awful

  4. Concerned Student

    Mick, do not attempt to bring your extremist politics into this University, and do not attack the head of a department. Not one person will stand for this.

    • Metanastes

      He’s not attacking the head of the department. He is merely pointing out that Aspinwall’s political interests align with his response to the protesters on campus. Furthermore, Mick doesn’t support ethnic cleansing, that’s hardly “extremist politics”.

  5. Metanastes

    This is ridiculous. Aspinwall talks about being “civilized” and “free expression”. Those terms do not come in to play when discussing a one-sided talk by the representative of the Isreali apartheid regime. Why should we let our anger (which is wholly legitimate) be pulled in to that narrative? The Isreali regime has had massive support from the EU and the USA in matters monetary and military; and in matters of it’s legitimacy as a state.

    People’s concerns about Taub and Isreal in general are not dictated by some sort of “reasoned” academic debate. That’s not what should be asked of us. This is NOT a difference of opinion. We should not expected to debate the merits of settlers killing Palestinians, taking their land, burning their crops, indefinitely detaining Palestinians without trial, separating families, privatising water supplies (just for Palestinians), dropping bombs on civilian targets and displacing thousands of people. I do not count my anger at this as a difference of opinion that I have to be civilized about, and I imagine that anyone who attended the demonstration would feel the same. These are atrocities. Atrocities committed by an oppressor, on to the oppressed. Atrocities that make a normal life for Palestinian people impossible.

    You want to hear the Isreali side of the story? Go and watch any major news outlet, Go and listen to a large section of society’s opinion on the subject, go and attend one of the many events (ranging from music to discussions) from Isreali cultural and political ambassadors, go on a university funded exchange program to Isreal, you could even go on holiday there. The idea that a group of students protesting could silence the Isreali state is frankly ridiculous when you consider the huge amounts of money, time and effort poured in to whitewashing Isreal and trying to create the façade that it is a legitimate state. This rings especially true when you consider that Mark Aspinwall has been secretive about the meeting and enlisted the help of the police to try and silence dissent. Aspinwall must be made to account for his actions

  6. Aidy D'evry

    Great letters James and Pete. This fantastic movement really is spreading and promoting awareness. It looks like we are ruffling all the right feathers! Let’s keep building on these brave actions to bring about freedom for the People of Palestine, who continue to live under an illegal military occupation. Mr Taub is a rather unpopular fellow, and it looks as though Mr Aspinwall has also nailed his unsavoury colours to the mast. It does however seem very odd indeed that he appears to have attributed his own misguided views to the University of Edinburgh.

  7. Student

    I wholeheartedly agree with Metanastes about the situation in Palestine. I agree that it’s an incredibly emotive topic and that people’s anger is justified. It’s just incredibly difficult to reason with anyone about the situation if you don’t include reason in your argument. I understand the absurdity of that, and that people shouldn’t have to reason with anyone because it’s entirely obvious that the situation is wrong. However, in our society today, going into a debate without reason can only damage our own cause. The protesters present were obviously well-read on the situation and had clearly read up on both sides of the situation. That is how they are able to have such strong opinions – because they are well-read and well-educated on the matter. That is how everyone who feels remotely strong about this topic is able to do so. By hearing the other side of the story we can learn how to argue against it and to reason that it is ridiculous. Our reason will be heard.

    What we can’t do is deny anyone the right to hear the Israeli side to the story. Drowning this out only goes to hush up the whole situation. Unless we listen to opinions we disagree with how can we ever know that they are wrong? The people who attended the talk and were unable to hear Taub were therefore unable to hear the hypocritical and unjust things he was saying and so probably felt sorry for the man trying to speak and being shouted over. It’s a classic case of underdog. We can’t censor things we don’t like. I realise language is a powerful tool, but that gives nobody the right to silence anyone. People still listen to Hitler’s speeches, just to figure out the mistakes of the past and avoid dangers from the future. We didn’t burn everything he ever wrote.

    Granted, it is difficult to guarantee that people wouldn’t take what Taub said at face value and I’m sure some people would have. But that is their right. To quote Aung San Suu Kyi’s Letters from Burma: “To view the opposition as dangerous is to misunderstand the basic concepts of democracy. To oppress the opposition is to assault the very foundation of democracy.”

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