Your View

Shimon Peres, Sue Blackwell and the University College Union

This is a guest post by a Brummidge alumna

Sue Blackwell likes dressing up in a Palestinian flag from time to time. Leaving aside her questionable fashion sense, she also has her own webpage hosted by a Belgian domain. Dr Blackwell (yes she earned the title in 2007, having begun her academic career in 1983) is a member of the NEC of the University and College Union.

Readers will probably know that Blackwell has a long history of promoting a boycott of Israeli academics. This is the woman who in September 2007 responded to specialist legal advice that an academic boycott of Israeli Universities would be illegal with the words:

“It is quite ridiculous. It is cowardice. It is outrageous and an attack on academic freedom.”

This is the same woman who also threatened legal action against a prominent member of Engage (the anti-racist, anti-boycott group set up to counter left-wing antisemitism).

In the past Blackwell has demanded free speech for Hizbullah and Hamas, but not Engage. Given that Hizbullah is sponsored by the holocaust-denying mullahs of Tehran it should not seem strange that on the UCU activists list Blackwell did not call for David Irving to be banned from speaking in autumn 2007. Here she is in her own words:

Irving, however, is not a member of any far-right party to the best of my knowledge: he is a holocaust denier, which is odious but in my opinion should not be illegal in itself.

In my view we should picket Irving, hand out leaflets etc., but not call for the meeting to be banned UNLESS the BNP has a hand in organising the meeting. (Or unless someone can convince me that he is currently making pronouncements which amount to incitement).

If we are not drawing the line at incitement to racial hatred or racial violence, exactly where DO we draw it? Are we calling for everyone with racist views to be banned? Every holocaust denier? … Do we only call for “no platform” for people we disagree with and demand free speech for everyone else?

Now Blackwell’s stance may seem a little inconsistent with her recent statement on the activists list:

From: Sue Blackwell
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2008 15:12:56 +0500

Dear XXX,

This call did not originate from me but from civil society organisations in occupied Palestine: I was just forwarding it. Therefore my personal opinions are not particularly important. But for the record:

1. I am in favour of free speech but I believe that free speech carries with it responsibilities, and there must be limits somewhere. I do not support unlimited free speech for racists and fascists because they use it to incite racial violence, which quite rightly is against the law in this country. Nor do I believe in free speech for war criminals, which includes the likes of Peres in my book. Sorry if that offends anyone on the list but I believe it’s important to be morally consistent in such matters

2. An official invitation from an Oxford college to deliver a lecture is not a question of free speech anyway, it’s a question of giving special honours to the person to whom the invitation is issued. Why should special honours be given to a war criminal? PACBI are not saying that Peres should be prevented from expressing his odious opinions – they are just calling for Balliol College to withdraw that specific invitation.

Let’s hope that some human rights lawyers can get an arrest warrant issued for him as soon as he sets foot in the UK.

cheers all,
Sue B

So let me get this right. Sue Blackwell thinks that being prevented from promoting an academic boycott of Israelis is  ‘outrageous and an attack on academic freedom’. Sue Blackwell demands free speech for Hizbullah and Hamas, but not for Engage. Sue Blackwell thinks that David Irving has a right to speak at public meetings. Sue Blackwell does not believe in free speech for Shimon Peres.

Sue Blackwell. Because thinking you’re infallible means never having to admit you’re wrong.