Cambridge Uni law society hosts speakers who minimised Hamas atrocities

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Cambridge Uni law society hosts speakers who minimised Hamas atrocities

EXCLUSIVE: Society president defends decision to welcome panellist who claimed 'Israel is exterminating Palestinians'

Cambridge University Law Society president Vivek Bilous. Pic: LinkedIn
Cambridge University Law Society president Vivek Bilous. Pic: LinkedIn

The president of Cambridge University’s student law society has said he will not tolerate attempts to “censor our efforts for preserving free speech” after welcoming guest speakers on to campus who have “defended” the 7 October Hamas atrocities and accused Israel of genocide, apartheid, war crimes and colonialism.

It comes in the wake of a campus debate last month on the ICJ (International Court of Justice) featuring three academics that was promoted on the law society’s Facebook page.

One panellist who appeared at the debate online, Dr Shahd Hammouri, a lecturer in international law at the University of Kent, recently published an opinion piece entitled How international law is used to cover up Israeli settler-colonialism, on the Al Jazeera website.

In it, she writes: “Everything that is happening now in Israel-Palestine is taking place within the context of colonisation, occupation and apartheid, which according to international law are illegal. Israel is a colonising power and the Palestinians are the colonised indigenous population. Any reference to international law that does not recall these circumstances is a distortion of the story.”

Pic: Cambridge University Law Society Facebook page screenshot.

She adds: “Israel is perpetrating war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide in Gaza not in the context of ‘self-defence’ but of occupation.”

Screenshot: Twitter account, Dr Shahd Hammouri

On 12 February, Hammouri retweeted a post by controversial rapper Lowkey, referring to Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza.

A second panellist, Surabhi Ranganathan, professor of international law at Cambridge, re-posted a call on 28 January to donate to UNRWA, after the decision by some states to suspend funding to the organisation after its links to Hamas were exposed.

Screenshot of ‘Slack’ messages to Cambridge University Law Society

She also retweeted a promotional message for a “Decolonise Palestine Teach-In series”, and re-tweeted a post by Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf which claimed “If you did not vote for peace, while children are dying, then I do not know how you sleep at night. #CeasefireNow”

Screenshot: opinion piece written by Dr Shahd Hammouri on 8th October 2023

Ranganathan, together with third panellist Dr Tor Krever, assistant professor of international law at Cambridge, are both co-signatories on a letter sent by more than 800 scholars to the Labour party following 7 October, questioning the party’s position on the commission of war crimes.

The letter, refers to “Israel’s collective punishment of the population of Gaza”.

Krever also reposted a tweet from the UCU (University and College Union), the UK trade union for academics, from Birzeit University in Palestine, calling for a ceasefire to “stop the genocidal war against the Palestinian people” and refers to “Israel’s founding racist ideology”, “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity.”

Cambridge University Law Society ‘Slack’ messages, screenshot.

In a series of messages on communication platform ‘Slack’ seen by Jewish News, president of Cambridge University’s law society Vivek Bilous notes there has “been a little bit of talk and criticism going around” for which “the executive of course take full responsibility”.

He notes that the society has the “full backing of the Law Faculty, the university and our sponsors”.

In his subsequent series of posts, Bilous has sought to minimise the impact of any antisemitic views expressed at the event.

Bilous writes that he advises ‘archiving’ all “committee introduction posts” and editing out the names of the committee to preserve their anonymity.

In asking members to vote to approve him doing so, he adds that the university communications/media team have expressly “advised” that “for now it is probably best to keep your names away from view!”

He encourages members not to be “alarmed in any way”, that “this is mostly all procedural and we have everything under control.”

In a statement to Jewish News, Cambridge University Jewish Society said it was “deeply concerned that Dr Shahd Hammouri was invited to speak at a LawSoc event in Cambridge.

“Dr Hammouri was reported to have justified and defended the atrocious attacks of October 7th by Hamas, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK. Those who defend such violence and terror against civilians should not be given a platform on our campus.

“At a time where antisemitic hate crimes have risen drastically, Cambridge University Jewish Society are disappointed to see that the Law Society appear to be more concerned with their reputations than the welfare of their Jewish students, many of whom are still reeling from the shock of October 7th itself.”

Whilst approached by Jewish News, Cambridge University and Cambridge University Law Society have both declined to comment.

As reported by Jewish News, in November Cambridge University history department promoted a panel on the ‘weaponisation of antisemitism’.

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