The University of Manchester is facing protests next month from students and academics after it was revealed that a pro-Israeli group is set to host a celebration of the Balfour Declaration on its premises.
The celebration in Manchester is part of a series of events across the UK marking the 100-year anniversary of the statement written by Britain’s then foreign secretary Arthur Balfour on November 2, 1917, in which the British government stated its support for the establishment of a national home for Jewish people in Palestine.
The Balfour Declaration had far-reaching consequences for supporters of the Zionist cause and those living in Palestine. It is widely seen as the starting point of a chain of events that resulted in today’s bitter conflict.
News that the event - involving the Israeli Embassy and the Zionist Federation of Britain - was being held at the university was discovered by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign at the institution. BDS is a global movement founded with the aim of ending Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
BDS campaigner Huda Ammori, 23, told The National that the university's decision to allow the event to take place on its premises had upset many Palestinian students.
“The Balfour Declaration is seen by many Palestinian students as the invitation of the ethnic cleansing, which took place in 1948,” she explained.
Ms Ammori, who is in the third year of an international business, finance and economics degree at Manchester, described how some of the students on campus felt when they discovered the celebration was taking place.
“It was quite an emotional step back for some of the Palestinian students because it’s a mockery, especially when they are painting it as a celebration. Not an educational talk - a celebration,” she said.
“They [the university] are making a clear statement by holding it on the campus. They are completely disregarding Palestinian students.”
The BDS campaign at the university has joined other student societies in writing a letter to president and vice chancellor, Nancy Rothwell, demanding the event be cancelled. If it is not, Ms Ammori said a protest will take place outside the venue where the celebration is held.
When contacted by The National about the Balfour 100 celebration, the University of Manchester said it had allowed its premises to be hired by third parties and had no connection with the event.
“The university allows some of its premises to be hired by third parties for external events, provided that the events in question comply with the university’s code of practice on freedom of speech,” a spokesperson said.
“This event is one such commercial booking and it has no connection to, nor is it endorsed by, the university.”
Some academics at the institution have also expressed dismay at the Balfour event being held on the premises.
This is not the first time the university has caused controversy over its dealings with pro-Palestine groups. Last month, it was accused of censoring a talk by a Holocaust survivor, the title of which openly criticised Israel, resulting in senior academics sending administrators an open letter expressing deep concern.