LONDON – Jewish students at the London School of Economics have been unsuccessful in attempts to cancel an event with the editor of a pan-Arab newspaper speaking about “the Zionist lobby,” despite comments he made glorifying terrorism.
Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi, is scheduled to deliver a talk titled “How much influence does the Zionist lobby exert on US/UK foreign policy?” at LSE on Monday as a guest of the school’s Palestinian Society.
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“This is a man who has glorified terrorism and preached violence. Abdel Bari Atwan is on film encouraging the destruction of Israel, saying that he would dance in Trafalgar square were Israel to be attacked by Iranian missiles. This is threatening to Jewish and Israeli students on campus, said Israel Society president Gabi Kobrin.
In 2008, following the terrorist attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Atwan said that it was “justified,” that the religious seminary is responsible for “hatching Israeli extremists and fundamentalists,” and that the celebrations in Gaza “symbolized the courage of the Palestinian nation.”
In 2007, speaking about Iran’s nuclear capability on ANB Lebanese television, he said: “If the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight.”
In 2006, Atwan is quoted by the BBC as saying that the events of September 11 “will be remembered as the end of the US empire.”
The Palestinian Society declined to cancel the event or to consider a request to add a balanced panel.
“The Israel Society is committed to a two states for two peoples solution to the conflict and welcomes constructive campus debate on the subject. It would therefore be more appropriate if a proper platform was given for others to challenge his position. We have attempted to bring a speaker to form a panel with Mr. Atwan so his views can be effectively challenged. This has been rejected by the Palestine Society,” the Israel Society said in a statement.
However the Student Union did heed calls to change the day of the event – from Friday to Monday – so Jewish students could attend.
“We welcome the change of the date of the event from a Friday night (the Jewish Sabbath), which now enables Jewish student attendance. However, we now call on the LSE Students Union together with the university authorities to ensure that this event, and future events, are effectively regulated and monitored in order to maintain the welfare of all LSE students and not to give a future platform to speakers who have preached hate speech,” the Israel Society said.
In a statement put out on his website, Atwan – describing himself as “the highly respected author” – rejected the concerns expressed by the Israeli Society. He claimed that the accusations leveled against him were “defamatory allegations” and “part of a smear campaign” made by MEMRI, The Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“MEMRI is basically a propaganda machine... founded by an extreme right-wing neoconservative,” Atwan said.
“They are false allegations, part of a smear campaign against me.”
Claiming to be one of the few voices that speaks for the Palestinian people, Atwan said: “It would be a regrettable thing indeed if Israeli students, rather than engaging in a proper debate, are able to silence one of the few voices that speaks for the Palestinians.
He then said that it is not without irony that his talk asks how much influence the Zionist lobby yields. “In the light of the most recent batch of WikiLeaks, one might easily imagine that the answer is ‘rather a lot,’” his statement said.
“What kind of message is the LSE sending by endorsing this man through
the legitimacy of their Student Union? His claims are still in the
public domain, reported on by the BBC, cited across numerous reputable
media outlets and available in video for people to see,” said Raheem
Kassam, director of counter-extremism group Student Rights.
“Atwan cannot claim he is the victim of some kind of ‘smear campaign’
when anyone can watch these words coming from his mouth. It is
deplorable. LSE must consider its reputation and how exactly it is
contributing to peace promotion on campus by hosting such a character.
If he wants a ‘proper debate,’ then why not actually engage against
someone who will oppose his claims?”