Academics, represented by their UCU branch, have challenged the Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool Hope University to explain why unspecified “safety concerns” led her to disinvite Professor Avi Shlaim, an authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict at Oxford University, from giving a long-scheduled lecture last month. They have also demanded assurances of freedom of speech and academic freedom in face of the implicit threat that senior management may further interfere with teaching, research and debate on the conflict. Their letter to the V-C is reproduced below.

Professor Claire Ozanne
Office of the Vice-Chancellor and Rector
Liverpool Hope University
Hope Park
L16 9JD

Tuesday 7th November 2023

Dear Professor Ozanne,

I am writing to you on behalf of the members of Liverpool Hope UCU Branch, who are
shocked and angered to hear about the decision made by university senior management to
prevent Professor Avi Shlaim’s talk from going ahead on Wednesday 25th October. We have
already written to Professor Shlaim privately to express our support and solidarity and to assure
him that the university has not spoken on our behalf on this matter.

Professor Shlaim was invited to give a distinguished lecture at Liverpool Hope, drawing
on his many years of expertise as an acclaimed historian of the Middle East. The talk would
also draw on his memoir of his childhood in Iraq and in Israel, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an
Arab Jew.

Though the university claims only to have postponed the talk, we believe that the
university has made a unilateral decision to cancel Professor Shlaim’s lecture, with no
opportunity for it now to be rescheduled. The university has cited safety concerns as the reason
for this cancellation. But presumably these safety concerns were not always present given the
university’s decision to host the lecture to begin with; and presumably the university does not
think that these safety concerns will be prolonged as it has maintained its position that this
lecture has only been postponed, to be rearranged at a later date. We believe, therefore, that the
university must provide more information to staff regarding the nature of these safety concerns
and why it is that they felt them enough to cancel this lecture.

As a union, we are more concerned with the safety of researchers and academics which
may now be threatened as a result of this decision. The decision to cancel this lecture sets a
dangerous precedent and sends an unsettling message to all academics and scholars conducting
research at Liverpool Hope University. This is a serious curtailing of the academic freedom
both of Professor Shlaim and of academics and researchers working at Liverpool Hope
University. The decision by senior management to cancel Professor Shlaim’s talk might also
be seen as contributing to the escalating atmosphere of fear created by other cancellations,
threats, and government rhetoric that is preventing wider debates and discussion on the current
events unfolding in Gaza and Israel. Cancelling Professor Shlaim’s lecture goes against the
fundamental right to free speech that is a core principle of liberal democracies. This sends a
clear, political message that Hope does not respect the right to free speech or the values and
principles of democratic states and institutions.

The university has also made a political intervention with this decision, obscuring
historical realities regarding the present situation in Gaza and Palestine. We believe that our
university and the community it serves has lost an opportunity to learn from a renowned expert
in his field. We also believe that cancelling Professor Shlaim’s lecture could be understood as
an attempt to silence and deny historical facts as well as an act that seeks to close down rather
than open up spaces of meaningful dialogue and informed debate about Israeli and Palestinian
history. Such spaces, we contend, can contribute to increasing knowledge and awareness about
what is happening and why in the Middle East right now, and to increase public pressure on
governments to call for an immediate ceasefire and an end to this violence.

We call on Liverpool Hope University to:

1. Offer an apology to Professor Shlaim for cancelling his talk and curtailing his academic
2. To provide Liverpool Hope UCU and Professor Shlaim with a full rationale for their
decision to cancel this talk.
3. To provide its staff with an assurance that their rights to free speech will be protected
and to assert its commitment to defend academic freedom in research and scholarship.

Liverpool Hope UCU stands in full solidarity with Professor Avi Shlaim. We look forward to
hearing from the university on the above in due course.


Samuel Mercer, Chair of Liverpool Hope UCU