Per CiF Watch’s post from yesterday: I just got off the phone with Professor Geoffrey Alderman to get his personal reactions to the outrageous snubbing he received from the Director of the Belfast Festival, Mr. Graeme Farrow, who disinvited him from a panel convened to discuss “Conflict in the Middle East.” The discussion was part of the 2010 Belfast Festival (held under the auspices of Queen’s University Belfast). The withdrawal of the invitation, per Alderman, was due solely to objections by the other radical left panelists, Avi Shlaim and Beverly Milton-Edwards.
Professor Alderman – author, co-author and editor of some 15 books, including Modern British Jewry – only had a few minutes to talk, but told me that he clearly intends to pursue the matter further, and is still quite outraged and saddened by the treatment he received. He noted that he’s given a couple of newspaper and radio interviews on the incident, and characterized the Belfast press a quite sympathetic to his cause – as Northern Ireland, for obvious historic reasons, takes issues of censorship, and the stifling of debate, quite seriously. Indeed, their laws (much like in the U.S.) vigorously protect freedom of speech. He also informed me that he met, today, with a “high-level” civil servant within the Northern Ireland Assembly, and that he has reason to believe that a full investigation into the university’s actions may ensue – as Queen’s University receives significant funding from the government.
Alderman also noted how interesting it is that, though the other professors on the panel apparently had veto rights over his appearance, he wasn’t given the same prerogatives over the appearances of Professors Shlaim and Milton-Edwards. Alderman made it clear to me, however, that, even if allowed to object to his co-panelists he wouldn’t have exercised that right – as he believes fully in free and open debate (even with those he has a profound ideological difference with). It is important to note the Shlaim is not only on the far left side of the political spectrum, but is someone who has said (link above):
“Zionism today is the real enemy of the Jews…It is the enemy because it fuels the flames of virulent and sometimes violent anti-Semitism. Israel’s policies are the cause.”
Also worth noting: the other co-panelist, Prof Milton-Edwards (according to Melanie Phillips, per above link), “described Hamas in glowing terms as a ‘Muslim national movement’ which was trying to bring law and order in Gaza by cracking down on antisocial and unIslamic menaces like drug or alcohol abuse, and which promoted the rights of Muslim women, including talking about the dangers posed to them by the ‘Israeli occupation.”
That, Alderman told me, was the broader issue which disturbed him even more than the personal insult. Why, he asked, are those who clearly posses so much visceral hostility towards Israel often afraid to engage with those with whom they disagree? Further, he pondered, why would a university, of all places – dedicated primarily, one would presume, to the free pursuit of knowledge – be a party to The Belfast Festival leadership’s clear violation of such principles?
After my conversation with Mr. Alderman, I contacted Queen’s University for comment, and was assured I’d receive a call back from someone within the administration leadership with an official comment. We’ll continue to keep you posted as events develop.