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Written by Student Rights on 26 November 2012 at 5pm

Partisan panel at SOAS precludes debate

Following last week’s ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas it comes as no surprise that a number of universities across the country are holding events discussing the conflict in the Middle East.

However, tomorrow’s event at the School of Oriental and African Studies entitled ‘Israeli Society in Crisis and the War on Gaza’ has fallen into the all too common trap of describing an event with two partisan speakers as a “debate”.

The first speaker, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, has written on ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ and also co-authored ‘Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War against the Palestinians’ with Noam Chomsky.

He has also written numerous articles that are extremely critical of Israel including ‘The ’48 Nakba and the Zionist Quest for its completion’ and ‘Towards a Geography of Peace: Whither Gaza?’ published by Electronic Intifada.

Pappe has been embroiled in a number of controversies due to his highly partisan views, and was asked to resign his position at Haifa University after endorsing an academic boycott of Israeli institutions and academics.

He also continues to stand by the MA thesis of Theodore Katz, a student at the University of Haifa who claimed that Israeli troops had killed 240 Arab civilians at Tantura in 1948. This thesis has since been failed by the University, which declared that “the quotes in the written text did not match the taped comments of the interviews and that the text was grossly distorted".

Criticising Dr Pappe, the university also wrote that "In actual fact, during the past few years, Dr. Pappe has transgressed all common ethical standards of academic life”.

He will be joined in this ‘debate’ by Professor Haim Bresheeth, an Israeli academic at the University of East London. Bresheeth is an opponent of a two state solution, describing the idea as “a fig leaf used by Zionism and its western supporters... it was used to control and cajole Palestine, to cover up the continuation of the oppression and military occupation, and to support the continuation of the Israeli settlement of Palestinian lands”.

He has also stated that the War on Terror is “a war waged by proxy against Arabs and Islam” and thatIsrael is totally free to bomb just about anywhere it chooses, kill just about anyone it wishes, destroy the whole infrastructure of Lebanon, murdering more than 1000 people...[yet] it is the other side -- always the other side -- that is blamed”.

These views should of course have the right to be heard on British university campuses, and there should be no talk of trying to ban these individuals from speaking. However, this is clearly not going to be a debate and to present it as such is extremely misleading.

One-sided lectures like this hinder debate rather than create it, and dissuade those with opposing views from taking part for fear of attack by a partisan crowd. Students attend university to learn critical thinking, and simply listening to what you want to hear is no way to develop that skill.