Mandela leaflet is banned

From the archive (legacy material)

Phil Baty | Times Higher Education Supplement | 16 May 2003

There was a time when student activists worshipped the then imprisoned South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, voting to name their union buildings after him. Now Birmingham University’s guild of students has threatened disciplinary action against members who circulated a leaflet quoting Mr Mandela.
They said it was a breach of policy forbidding campaigns on international conflicts and that Mr Mandela’s “extreme views” might make students uncomfortable.
The leaflet uses a quote by the former South African president in a memo to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that condemns Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, to advertise a meeting of the Birmingham University Stop the War Coalition (Bust) this week.
It says: “Palestinians are not struggling for ‘state’ but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa.
“Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality.”
The meeting’s speakers are George Galloway MP and Stephen Marks, of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
In an email to Bust, guild executive member Ali Marchant says he removed the publicity material from university buildings and asks the group to stop distributing it. “Failure to do so will result in serious disciplinary action being taken against any perpetrators, and may ultimately result in their suspension from the university.
“Your publicity is clearly against guild policy, which prevents campaigning around international conflicts, and is therefore unacceptable.”
The banning of the leaflet has prompted a storm of protest. Shareen Benjamin, a lecturer in the School of Education, wrote to the guild: “Acts of censorship such as this do no depoliticise the guild, rather they align it with some very unpleasant political positions. As a Jewish member of staff, I am very worried by recent developments in what I understand to be guild policy. Meetings, whether they are convened by pro-Palestinan, pro-Zionist, anti-Zionist, are surely to be encouraged. After all, students are (I hope) intelligent people, capable of engaging in debates.”
Mr Marchant said the policy was designed not to suppress debates on controversial international issues but to ensure that students were not made to feel uncomfortable by generally circulated material that included extreme political views.
“We will be asking the council to review this policy and we will recommend a number of changes,” he said.