Written by Student Rights on 1 March 2012 at 1pm

Dr Azzam Tamimi at Queen Mary University: Report

The focus today is squarely on the issue of anti-Israeli speakers on campuses due to the news of Baroness Tonge’s inflammatory remarks at Middlesex University last week, and her subsequent resignation after Student Rights highlighted the matter yesterday morning.  

With this in mind, Student Rights have received reports from Tuesday’s event at Queen Mary University featuring Dr Azzam Tamimi which we wrote about last week. Most famous for declaring in 2004 that he would “do it if he had the opportunity” when questioned over his support for suicide bombings, Tamimi has also been filmed declaring his support for “the great jihad of Hezbollah” and “the great jihad of Hamas and Islamic Jihad”. As well as this, he has frequently denied the legitimacy of the Israeli state, saying that “for the Palestinians it is impossible to recognise that what happened to them in 1948 was legitimate” and thatIsrael has no right to exist”.

By allowing him to speak without any kind of balance or opposition the Queen Mary Free Palestine Society, and other university societies around the country who hold similar events, create an atmosphere on campus in which it is acceptable to spread such views. This problem was raised by the recent Home Affairs Select Committee report into radicalisation when it said that “we are not convinced that extremists on campus are always subject to equal and robust challenge” and is an issue that seems to raise its head with again and again.

After raising our concerns, Student Rights were denied entry to this talk on Friday 24th February when the Student Union Vice President Communications which stated that “your request to attend the ‘One state or two state solution?’ event at Queen Mary, University of London is not possible to grant as it is not a public meeting and is open only to Queen Mary students and staff and University of London students.

Reports claim that Dr Tamimi once again declared his affiliation with Hamas, a group designated by the UK government as a terrorist organisation, saying that “I have a great honour to be close to Hamas” and that “all the leaders of Hamas are my friends”. Despite these comments, and his previously expressed views on the subject he also claimed that the concern over the event was an attempt to silence him. This was not the case, with many people keen to see an event that hosted such a controversial figure provided with robust intellectual opposition rather than being banned.  

One student that Student Rights spoke to about the event did inform us that questions were in fact raised as to the lack of balance, something the Student Union had also highlighted, and Dr Tamimi replied that he would be happy to balance events in the future. However, there has been little evidence of this in the past, perhaps because credible academics and official Israeli speakers do not want to share a platform with him. Given his reputation and previous comments, as well as the highly partisan audiences that attend many of these talks, this may be something which is difficult to rectify.  

Meanwhile Baroness Tonge, who yesterday resigned from the Liberal Democrats after Student Rights reported that she had said that “Israel will lose its support and then they will reap what they have sown”, did sit alongside him. Given that she has met with the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and last week did not challenge a fellow panellist when he claimed that Mossad was responsible for 9/11 and that Israel “in its current form should be destroyed”this is hardly surprising. However, it does demonstrate the way in which these panels are constructed to create events which provide monotone condemnation and antipathy rather than academic debate.  

As a result these events have shown that when there is no semblance of even-handedness all too often speakers are allowed to spread hate filled and delusional views without any challenge. Here at Student Rights we would urge university authorities to take this problem seriously in order to ensure that campus cohesion does not suffer any more than it already has.