At Manchester University in April of 2010, Israel's deputy ambassador to the UK, Talya Lador-Fresher, was violently attacked. Demonstrators climbed the hood of her car and attempted to smash the windscreen before the police were able to escort her to safety.
Again, in February of 2013, this time at the University of Essex in Colchester, Britain, during a debate on the situation in the Middle East, authorities ordered the evacuation from campus of her successor, Israel's deputy ambassador to the UK, Alon Roth-Snir. A group of hostile students disrupted the debate; university authorities said they could not protect his safety.
The British website Spiked Online, known for its staunch defense of freedom of speech, recently published its first "Free Speech University Rankings" (FSUR). Spiked surveyed 115 British universities and examined the policies, regarding freedom of speech, of both the university administrations and the students' unions. The universities were then ranked using a traffic-light system. The color red was given to universities that ban and actively censor certain ideas on campus; amber was given to universities that chill free speech through intervention; and green for universities with a hands-off approach to free speech.
Image source: Spiked Online
Spiked did not negatively assess university policies or actions aimed at restricting unlawful speech. America has a First Amendment, but Europe does not. There are countless restrictions on speech under UK law, including harassment, incitement to violence or discrimination. However, if a university or students' union expands legal definitions of speech offenses in order to limit legitimate, lawful speech, this was taken into account.
The results of the FSUR were staggering. Forty-seven universities were marked red, including renowned institutions such as Oxford University and the London School of Economics; 45 universities were marked amber, including Cambridge University; and a mere 23 universities were marked green. The results indicate that 80% of British universities censor speech.
Essex University, from where Israeli diplomat Roth-Snir was evacuated, was marked red, both for its official policies and for those of its students' union. The university guidelines state that it is forbidden to "cause needless offence, concern or annoyance to others." Essex Professor Thomas Scotto complained to the media that he asked the university to re-invite an Israeli spokesman, but he was told to "let it go."
The University of Manchester was marked amber. The university itself received a green ranking, because it places no limits on speech and expression. However, the Manchester student's union forbids what it calls the "promotion of extremist causes." Defending the policies of Israel seems to be one of these "extremist causes."
Spiked's FSUR shows that censoring pro-Israeli views belongs to the five most popular bans at British universities. "Campus censorship is something which no longer can be laughed off. Free thought itself is under attack," Tom Slater, assistant editor at Spiked, wrote in the Daily Telegraph. "Pro-life groups have been banned at four universities. Pro-Israel students are lucky if they can even get events approved."
Last month, students and staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London voted to boycott Israel and sever all links with Israeli academic institutions. 75% of the students, 60% of the academic staff and 90% of the non-teaching staff, such as cleaners, favored the Israeli boycott.
The spectacle of stifling free speech on campus is not restricted to Britain; it can be seen all over the world, including in the U.S.
In America, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has published a guide-to-free-speech-on-campus, which rates colleges and universities in a similar fashion as Spiked. The case of Daniel Mael springs to mind, a 22-year old student who is being lambasted at Brandeis University for expressing pro-Israeli views. "Supporting Israel is now labeled an act of 'racism' by some professors and certain campus organizations," Mael writes.
It is no coincidence that the fight to preserve freedom of speech coincides with the right to defend Israel. Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental values of our Judeo-Christian civilization. The day we give away free speech -- or Israel, which embodies it -- is the day we cease to exist.
Peter Martino is based in Europe.