We are aware that the Birmingham Guild of Students has received 60 emails of complaint about one of our events: 'US Army Veteran Mike Prysner- Crisis in the Middle East', on the 26th of January.
The complaints related to the timing of the event, coming as it did on the same day that a commemoration was held at the University, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Complaints were also made about some of the content of the talk. We also note that upwards of 200 students expressed their support of the event in an online petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/mikeprysner/signatures).
At the time it was organised we were unaware of the Holocaust commemoration taking place on the same day not least because both events occurred on the day before Holocaust Memorial Day. When we became aware of the clash we brought our event forward by two hours so that people could attend both events if they chose.
We hope that people will understand the constraints of hosting an international speaker on a tight schedule who was only in the area for a short period of time. We would also like to stress that this was part of a regular series of events held by Friends of Palestine and was in no way intended to minimise or draw attention away from commemorating the Holocaust.
The other complaints related to the content of the talk. We do not vet outside speaker talks in advance, and cannot always take responsibility for all of the content within them. Nevertheless we are happy to emphasise that, in common with all events involving outside speakers, the views expressed in this particular talk do not always reflect the views of Friends of Palestine or its member, in particular the brief section of the talk that caused the most distress, in which the Gaza Strip was likened to a “concentration camp.”
We believe that associating the actions of the Israeli state with the history of Nazi Germany, or its iconography, is neither useful nor respectful to the sensitivities of sections of the student body and are happy to dissociate ourselves from any such comparison.
(The audio recording is available from http://www.zshare.net/audio/860855823658cefe/ The part on Gaza starts at 29 minutes)
The University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech on Campus states that “the University is an academic community of staff and students. Central to this concept is the ability of all its members freely to challenge prevailing orthodoxies, query the positions and views of others and to put forward ideas that may sometimes be radical in their formulation.”
We believe that this talk made and important and compelling contribution to understanding the Middle East and many attendees found it a challenging and valuable experience. Nonetheless we regret, deeply, that some students have been upset by aspects of the talk and would like to reaffirm our, desire as a Society, to pursue our activities in the spirit of mutual understanding and solidarity with all victims of oppression or injustice, wherever or whenever it has taken place.
Friends of Palestine Society
University of Birmingham