The battle for free speech on university campuses

There is a coalition of extreme activists, mostly hailing from the international far Left, doing everything possible to ensure voices like those of Col. Kemp and Gen. Kuperwasser are silenced.

Richard Kemp (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Richard Kemp
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘These days, the talks worth attending are the ones that are protested.” This was how Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, opened a Pinsker Center event to a packed auditorium at the University of Bristol last week. Sharing the stage with this British officer was his Israeli counterpart, Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a former head of the Research Division of the IDF.
The rare public appearance of senior commanders from two different armies standing alongside one another was a representation of the close but unreported strategic ties between Israel and the West, which has potentially saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
The two veteran commanders explained the important role of intelligence sharing between Israel and the United Kingdom in combating terrorism. With over 60 years of distinguished military experience between them, they spoke to a diverse audience that included dozens of students serving in the UK’s University Army Training Corps, the future backbone of the British Army’s higher leadership, not to mention other highly intelligent young people studying at one of Europe’s top universities.
Events of these kind have enormous potential. However, there is a coalition of extreme activists, mostly hailing from the international far Left, doing everything possible to ensure voices like those of Col. Kemp and Gen. Kuperwasser are silenced.
The protest the colonel was referring to is a case in point. In a video seen over 100,000 times online, student activists can be seen shouting abuse at Kemp, repeatedly calling him a “racist,” a “war criminal” and other libelous epithets. Fortunately, the protest stayed outside the lecture theater, but there have been many more occasions where that has not happened.
In the days preceding the event, activists from Bristol’s Student Union Minority Network, and groups named Bristol Socialist Students and Bristol Friends of Palestine penned an open letter, amassing over 260 signatures, including both students and their professors. The letter falsely alleged, with no evidence whatsoever, that the event gave a platform for Islamophobia and celebrated British war crimes in the Middle East.
An aggressive protest is just one of many tactics used to shut down freedom of speech on British, American and European campuses. Other methods range from university authorities forcing students to pay unaffordable security costs, or student unions appointing Orwellian officials who can decide to shut down events at any time. Here, the Pinsker Center steps in.
Since 2016, The Pinsker Center has hosted over 100 campus events in five different countries. It is one of the most effective and proactive campus organizations today which seeks to protect and promote freedom of speech, and has the expertise to ensure academic events are not shut down by bullies or bigots.
BY COVERING the costs for security, bringing more Israeli speakers to campus than any other organization, and with a solemn promise that regardless of the circumstances, we will never cancel an event, the Pinsker Center has been able to make a difference.
The challenge we face forms part of an unmistakable campaign to monopolize anti-Western, and anti-Israel narratives on campuses in the Western world. To cite but one example, on Bristol’s campus this same month, the same student groups protesting Col. Kemp hosted Prof. Ilan Pappe for a talk titled “Anti-Zionism is not Antisemitism,” a lecture that an anti-racism charity described as “attempting to whitewash antisemitism.”
In this situation, it is critical to ensure another narrative is heard, in order to balance the orthodoxies of student political life. A student learning at our talk that Col. Kemp has received several medals for saving the lives of Muslims across the globe would perhaps complicate accusing him of “hating Muslims.”
There is enormous value in future leaders learning how Israeli intelligence saves and has saved British lives, especially within a context of increasingly deadly terrorist attacks that have plagued the United Kingdom in recent years. For their own personal development, as well, it is of tremendous benefit for these students to hear from experts who have bountiful experience outside of the classroom.
Those of us seeking to build bridges face a unique generational challenge. We no longer live in an age where a plucky little Israel faces threats of annihilation, where the Holocaust is in living memory, and where idealistic young men and women spend their summers on kibbutzim. In the post-Lebanon, post-Intifada, and post-Cast Lead era, tomorrow’s leaders have become accustomed to seeing Israel painted as pariah state causing mayhem in the region. As a result, defending Zionism is no longer a straightforward task.
The Pinsker Center was founded to take on these challenges. Our talented student leaders organize engaging and insightful events with world-class speakers in universities across the UK, hosting experts from the fields of diplomacy, politics, academia, defense and intelligence. We need to reach out to the leaders of tomorrow because abandoning campuses means abandoning our future. We are hopeful that others can follow our example. The future of Israel’s ties with the West depends on it.
The writer is a staff sgt. (ret.) of the IDF Paratrooper Brigade and a graduate of the University College of London where he read History. He is media director of The Pinsker Center (, a campus-based think tank that educates about Israel and the Middle East.