LSE Law Department under fire for hosting Israeli historian Benny Morris

By Chenoa Colaco and Iraz Akkus

Staff and students at LSE have voiced opposition to the LSE Law Department’s decision to host Benny Morris on campus as an event speaker. This is following a series of events covering many conversation panels and podcasts surrounding the conflict in Palestine.

The event has been scheduled for 4 March, with the venue location being released only on the day for security reasons. Participants can also access the event online.

Morris has been labelled as a “radical” Israeli historian, known for his controversial views towards Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. He has made polemical comments such as “there are times in history that justify ethnic cleansing” and “[i]f he [Ben-Gurion] had carried out a full expulsion – rather than a partial one – he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.

He has also made several xenophobic and Islamophobic comments, arguing that “human life doesn’t have the same value” in Islam, and Arab societies have “no moral inhibitions”. Morris states that he is a “Cosmic Pessimist”, on the belief that Palestinians will never support a two-state solution following the second Intifada from 2000.

Education and Welfare Officer Sarah Onifade has expressed disappointment at his invitation, stating that Morris’s history of “inflammatory rhetoric” has “no place in our academic institution – or any inclusive society” and will harm the LSE community.

Among Morris’s critics are many well-accredited professors and professionals, including Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist, who partook in a direct debate with Morris on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Dean of LSE Law School Professor David Kershaw responded to the criticism in an email sent to Law students on 23 February, re-asserting his pride in the department for having “convened a balanced discussion on the current political conflict”. He used a personal anecdote of his discussions with the Prime Minister of Jordan, who encouraged him to “create a space for everyone from all sides to speak”. He also encouraged students to contact him about any further concerns. 

A student who reached out to Kershaw states that his response “did not engage with any of the specific remarks I highlighted, which identified hateful justifications of various racist atrocities made by Morris. Instead it claimed that the place of universities is to host ‘all sides’, rather than to take a side, and that hosting speakers ‘does not imply in any way that we institutionally agree with that speaker’”. 

The LSESU Palestine Society has launched an open letter against the event and held a rally in protest on 28 February outside the LSE library. 

A representative from the LSESU Palestine Society commented, “The Law School’s invitation of Morris despite pushback, including from LSE’s own Risk Spotting group, is extremely concerning. Morris’ unapologetic statements about Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims clearly constitute hate speech, and by platforming him, the Law School and the LSE as a whole are failing in their duty of care towards students and staff vulnerable to racism and Islamophobia. This is especially harmful given today’s context of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, and rising anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic, and racist violence in Europe and the US. We have expanded on these points in our open letter, which you can read online.”

An LSE spokesperson said: “Free speech and freedom of expression underpin everything we do at LSE. Students, staff and visitors are strongly encouraged to discuss and debate the most pressing issues around the world.

LSE has clear policies in place to ensure the facilitation of debates and enable all members of our community to refute ideas lawfully, and to protect individual’s rights to freedom of expression within the law. This is formalised in our Code of Practice on Free Speech and in our Ethics Code.”

Chenoa and Iraz report on LSE Law Department hosting Israeli historian Benny Morris

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