Open letter re Freie Universtät’s decision to cancel Professor Lila Sharif’s lecture on Palestine

Dear Professor Dr. Peter-André Alt and Professor Dr. Gudrun Krämer:

As members of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), we write to protest the Freie Universtät’s recent decision to cancel Professor Lila Sharif’s lecture “Olive Insurrections: Palestinian Survival in a Vanishing Landscape.” This talk was scheduled to take place at the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies on November 23, 2017. (Read Statement by the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies on the cancellation of Professor Lila Sharif’s talk here.)

We have learned that on the very day of the lecture, and following false charges that Professor Sharif is antisemitic, @FU_Berlin tweeted that “because of higher than expected attendance and associated organizational problems, BGMCS has decided to cancel the lecture.” Particularly given the extreme discourtesy with which this cancellation occurred, and given the failure to reschedule the event, this reasoning strikes us as disingenuous at best. Prof. Sharif has yet to be contacted or defended by you against character defamation, and if the problem truly was too much interest, then why not accommodate that interest by procuring a larger venue?

Given the circumstances surrounding the event cancellation, we can only come to the conclusion that the university has ceded to the false allegations made against Professor Sharif. It is shameful for the university to legitimate the all-too-common conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and to silence a scholar who, if allowed to speak, could address the many problems and distortions that accompany such a charge. These include the ways that Israel depends upon this false equation to perpetuate its human rights violations against Palestinians and its disregard for international law.

As organizers for USACBI working in a country that increasingly criminalizes the BDS movement on the basis of its alleged “antisemitism,” we all are very familiar the significant personal and political harms that come with this spurious—and antisemitic—conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. In addition to supporting character defamation, by allowing such charges to stand, your university (1) supports Zionist practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing; and (2) violates academic freedom and represses critical thinking during a time characterized by a creeping fascism.

In the expectation that FU does not wish to contribute to such forms of oppression, we ask that FU refute charges that Professor Sharif and the BDS movement are anti-Semitic. We also ask that FU reissue an invitation to Professor Lila Sharif so that, in a larger venue, she can discuss Palestine, and affirm that your university makes no Palestinian exception to freedom of speech and academic freedom.


The USACBI Organizing Collective

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