Palestine, Israel, and Benny Morris: Aren’t we here to talk?

By Anonymous Contributor

On 4 March, LSE Law hosted Israeli historian Benny Morris for a discussion on the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the conflict more broadly, and this event was disrupted by pro-Palestine protestors. This event served as an example how pro-Palestine activism is sometimes misused to justify what many Israelis and Jews perceive as their silencing on campus.

Before Morris’ lecture, pro-Palestine activists called for Morris to be disinvited based on his alleged anti-Palestinian racism. On the day, they not only protested outside but also disrupted Morris’s lecture and the moderation of Professor David Kershaw, who invited him. In doing so, they violated the academic code of practice on free speech, and the LSE community missed a chance to engage with an unconventional view on the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

Indeed, Morris has made very controversial statements in the past, but the attempt to dismiss him as a mere racist ignores his very unusual resumé. For example, his first book was dedicated to Israel’s culpability in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. His unique work was sometimes commended by Palestinians and criticised by more nationalistic Israelis. A supporter (albeit a sceptical one) of the two-state solution, Morris was jailed in 1988 for refusing reserve duty in the West Bank. Recently he signed a letter along with 750 academics addressed to the American Jewish community, calling to recognise Israeli “apartheid” in the West Bank. All in all,  Morris might have unconventional and sometimes controversial opinions, but he certainly does not hold anti-Palestinian opinions that warrant his ban from campus or his silencing. The immediate targeting of Morris’s event raises heavy suspicion that the problem was not that he is “anti-Palestinian”, but simply that he is Israeli.

The Morris incident is symptomatic of the wider hostile atmosphere many Israelis and Jews currently experience on campus. In what appears to be their bid for complete control over the discourse on campus, the more aggressive wing of pro-Palestine activists pushes the Students’ Union to adopt one-sided resolutions that pick a side in the conflict, even though this alienates an entire population of the student body; they organise one-sided events while disrupting events that deviate from their narrative like the Benny Morris lecture; and they won’t even allow for constructive Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, seeing how in 2021 they chased off campus the Israeli ambassador after she participated in an event alongside her Palestinian counterpart. 

While there should be room for critical debate of Israel and Palestine, this should be done in an impersonal and respectful way. It certainly should not be used as a pretext to bully individuals, to justify hatred against an entire nation or religion, or to create an unsafe study and learning environment. Doing so does little to help any side of the conflict, and only makes our campus culture feel hostile instead of globalised. Unfortunately, the silencing of Israeli perspectives is occurring in universities across the UK, and often under the guise of advocating for Palestine. This is accompanied by a broader, disturbing rise in antisemitic incidents. Lately, the tidal wave of antisemitic and anti-Israeli hate speech in Western campuses was criticised even by Gazans such as Hamza Howidy and Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, who called to replace this animosity with genuine support for coexistence and a two-state solution.

When the war started, I and a great deal of my Israeli and Jewish friends had initially hoped that LSE, being geographically outside the Middle East and populated by cosmopolitan intellectuals, could serve as a haven where people from all over the world overcome stereotypes and bravely seek a better way forward together. Instead, many of us feel intimidated into silence. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to think: how many times have you seen Israeli flags at LSE, compared to Palestinian flags? How many times have you heard about pro-Israeli activists organising protests or disrupting lectures like their pro-Palestinian counterparts? If you have Jewish or Israeli friends on campus, try asking them whether they feel safe to share their identities with others at this time, let alone their opinions; I promise you that a good number of them will respond “no”.

Ultimately, dialogue is a cornerstone of democracy and a global society. Without dialogue there will never be peace, so let’s make LSE a space for dialogue.


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