Avi Shlaim, emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College and emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford University, was due to give a lecture at Liverpool Hope University tomorrow, but soon after conflict resumed between Hamas militants and Israel on 7 October the University administration disinvited him, offering to re-schedule the lecture at some unspecified date. Shlaim is a dual British-Israeli national and leading authority on Israel’s international history. One might imagine that the University would consider itself lucky to have invited such a well-qualified speaker precisely when a deeper knowledge of the origins and context of the present crisis is most needed. It seems that Shlaim’s critical attitude towards Israeli policy prompted outside pressure on the University administration which cravenly yielded to the demand for no-platforming. Gillian Keegan, the Minister of Education, and Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition, should of course protest at this scarcely veiled censorship. Sadly, there is no prospect they will do so.

The original Times Higher Education Supplement report of the incident, reprinted below, can be found here.

Historian criticises ‘spineless’ cancellation of Israel lecture

Complaints from Jewish community prompt Liverpool Hope to pull plug on lecture that was set to be critical of the formation of the state of Israel

October 20, 2023
Tom Williams, THE
A British-Israeli historian has criticised the “spineless” decision to cancel a lecture he was due to give at a UK university after the institution’s executive team pulled the plug due to concerns about the “well-being and safety” of staff and students.
Avi Shlaim, emeritus fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford and a former professor of international relations there, was due to speak as part of a “distinguished lecture series” at Liverpool Hope University on 25 October but was told this week that the event would no longer be going ahead.
Professor Shlaim is known as one of Israel’s “new historians”, a group of scholars critical of the history of Zionism and the development of the country in the 1940s and 1950s.
In his latest book, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew, he describes his own family’s exile from Iraq into Israel and claims to have found “undeniable proof” that Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, was involved in terror attacks on the Jewish community in Iraq, which hastened their transfer to the newly created state.
It is understood Liverpool Hope received complaints from members of the local Jewish community about the talk, citing the “present context” in the Middle East following the deadly attacks on Israel by Hamas on 7 October and the subsequent retaliation that has left thousands dead in Gaza.
A spokesperson for Liverpool Hope said the talk had been “postponed” and would be rearranged for later in the academic year.
“Free speech is of vital importance to the university and is core to its values,” the spokesperson said.
“Many of our community are deeply concerned by recent events in Israel, Gaza and the Middle East and we are aware that this is a particularly distressing time for those who have friends and family living in the region.
“As the well-being and safety of our students and staff is a priority for the university, we believe it is more appropriate to hold this important lecture later in the year.”
However, in correspondence forwarded to Times Higher Education by Professor Shlaim, he makes it clear that he will not be agreeing to rearrange the lecture.
“The people who complained about the event did so because they don’t like my views on Zionism and Israel. The issue is not of safety; it is of academic freedom. I am being denied the freedom to express my views on your campus,” Professor Shlaim says in the email to the event organiser.
He says the university had “bowed to political pressures and decided to cancel the event” in a “blatant case of no-platforming”, calling those who had made the decision “spineless”.
Earlier this year the Conservative government in Westminster passed new free speech legislation covering England and Wales, in part intended to address the issue of no-platforming of controversial speakers.
When the act comes fully into force next year, it will hand new protections to those who feel their free speech rights have been infringed, up to being able to bring legal proceedings against the university in question.