leaflet is banned
by Phil Baty
Times Higher Education Supplement,
May 16, 2003
There was a time when student activists worshipped the then imprisoned
South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, voting to name their
union buildings after him. Now Birmingham University's guild of
students has threatened disciplinary action against members who
circulated a leaflet quoting Mr Mandela.
They said it was a breach of policy forbidding campaigns on international
conflicts and that Mr Mandela's "extreme views" might
make students uncomfortable.
The leaflet uses a quote by the former South African president
in a memo to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that condemns
Israel's treatment of Palestinians, to advertise a meeting of the
Birmingham University Stop the War Coalition (Bust) this week.
It says: "Palestinians are not struggling for 'state' but
for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling
for freedom in South Africa.
"Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty
and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination
The meeting's speakers are George Galloway MP and Stephen Marks,
of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
In an email to Bust, guild executive member Ali Marchant says he
removed the publicity material from university buildings and asks
the group to stop distributing it. "Failure to do so will result
in serious disciplinary action being taken against any perpetrators,
and may ultimately result in their suspension from the university.
"Your publicity is clearly against guild policy, which prevents
campaigning around international conflicts, and is therefore unacceptable."
The banning of the leaflet has prompted a storm of protest. Shareen
Benjamin, a lecturer in the School of Education, wrote to the guild:
"Acts of censorship such as this do no depoliticise the guild,
rather they align it with some very unpleasant political positions.
As a Jewish member of staff, I am very worried by recent developments
in what I understand to be guild policy. Meetings, whether they
are convened by pro-Palestinan, pro-Zionist, anti-Zionist, are surely
to be encouraged. After all, students are (I hope) intelligent people,
capable of engaging in debates."
Mr Marchant said the policy was designed not to suppress debates
on controversial international issues but to ensure that students
were not made to feel uncomfortable by generally circulated material
that included extreme political views.
"We will be asking the council to review this policy and we
will recommend a number of changes," he said.