On October 20, 2023, it was reported that Liverpool Hope University (LHU) officials had decided to indefinitely postpone a lecture by Avi Shlaim, an emeritus fellow of St Antony’s College at Oxford and former professor of international relations at LHU, planned for October 25.
The event postponement occurred against the backdrop of a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that left over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and more than 200 abducted, and the subsequent Israeli military bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of the end of November, has reportedly killed nearly 15,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions around speech on campus across the world.
Professor Shlaim, a British-Israeli, is considered to be 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. Professor Shlaim was scheduled to speak as part of LHU’s “distinguished lecture series,” and discuss his historical expertise of the Middle East and his newly published book, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew. The book detailed his family’s forced migration from Iraq to Israel and claims that Shlaim has evidence that the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, was involved in terror attacks on the Jewish community in Iraq in an effort to coerce Jews into leaving Iraq for Israel.
A LHU spokesperson said the university postponed Shlaim’s talk to protect “the well-being and safety of our students and staff,” but vaguely noted that he could conduct his talk later in the year. The postponement reportedly came after LHU received pressure from Liverpool’s Jewish community to cancel the event.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the attempt to limit the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly on campus by indefinitely postponing an event that had previously been approved. University authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with freedom of expression and assembly, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. University actions that limit the rights to free expression or association on campus have a chilling effect on academic freedom and university autonomy, and undermine democratic society generally.