UN Israel 'apartheid' report: Richard Falk's UK talks are cancelled

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Princeton professor says Zionist NGOs are attacking his character rather than debating content of UN report after two universities cancel talks

Richard Falk says limiting academic freedom keeps students from becoming engaged citizens (AFP)
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Friday 24 March 2017 14:53 UTC
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Two British universities cancelled talks by international law professor Richard Falk this week after he co-authored a UN-commissioned report that concluded Israel is an “apartheid state”.

A Falk presentation at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) faced disruptive protests on Monday.

A Middlesex University London spokesperson told MEE that: “Due to safety concerns we have taken the decision to cancel the event."

Falk said that the university called off his lecture, citing “health and safety” concerns after the protests at LSE.

A University of East London spokesperson told MEE that the issue was procedural. “It became clear, the day before the event, that the University’s External Speakers Policy had not been adequately followed.”

The university would “consider welcoming Professor Falk to our campus on another occasion if the appropriate policies and procedures were followed,” the spokesperson added. 

Falk: Trend of limiting freedom

But Falk said the cancellations highlight the “intensification” of a trend of limiting academic freedom on university campuses.

“As far as I can tell, there is a growing kind of feeling that the educational establishment in Britain, specifically in England, has been kind of intimidated in dealing with those who are seen as critics of Israel,” Falk told Middle East Eye in a telephone interview.

He added that depriving students of exposure to controversial issues limits their training and experience for becoming engaged citizens.

The Princeton University professor faced attacks and accusations of bias and anti-Semitism after the UN report was published.

Falk said he is familiar with such assaults on his character, after serving as UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights from 2008 to 2014. However, the professor added that attempts to discredit him by Zionist NGOs do not address the content of his reports.

He said they are trying to “shoot the messenger, rather than address the issues raised in the message". He dismissed such criticism, calling it far from reality.

“It’s been used against a variety of other people - playing the anti-Semitic card rather than dealing with the substance of Palestinian grievances or Israeli violations of international law,” Falk told MEE.

He said Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has fallen below the level of acceptable moral behaviour and international legal standards, and that its supporters would be on weak grounds if they tried to discuss the actual issues.

Report withdrawn

The UN report co-authored by Falk was withdrawn from the international body’s website after prompting an international uproar.

The study documents patterns of discrimination that fragment Palestinian society through “distinct laws, policies and practices," which it maintains amounts to apartheid.

'It’s been used against a variety of other people - playing the anti-Semitic card rather than dealing with the substance of Palestinian grievances or Israeli violations of international law'
- Richard Falk

"Palestinians are denied the right to leave and return to their country," the report reads. "Palestinian refugees living in the occupied Palestinian territory are not allowed to return to their homes inside Israel, while Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles outside Israel and the territory are not allowed to return to their homes in either the territory or Israel."

Falk said while the report is an academic study commissioned by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), it does not represent the views of the UN.

He added that ESCWA officials are “very enthusiastic” about the quality of the report, which was reviewed by three “internationally renowned” jurists before it was published.

“It appears to be an instance where the new UN Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] gave way to pressure coming particularly from Washington, but also from Israel,” Falk said.

Under-secretary-general and executive secretary for ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, resigned in protest last week after Guterres ordered the study removed from the UN website.

Falk said while the controversy surrounding the report was unfortunate for the UN, it gave the study international visibility that it may not have enjoyed had it been just “one more UN report”.