Pro-Palestinian UMass forum allowed to continue

Hampshire County

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – A panel discussion about Palestinian rights at UMass-Amherst will be allowed to move ahead, even though it has been challenged by a group of students.

The panel, titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center.

A Superior Court judge ruled against a group of Jewish students who argued the forum was anti-Semitic, and should be forced off campus. In his ruling, the judge said he could not act against the forum just because someone may say something “that fits someone’s definition of anti-Semitism.”

One student told 22News it shouldn’t be cancelled just because some may not agree with the content. 

“People should be allowed to say what they want,” said Yasmina Berket, a freshman at UMass. 

Another student told 22News, if the topic of discussion could lead to hateful or offensive statements, it would be better for the event to be held off campus. 

“I don’t think that’s freedom of speech,” said catherine Moineau, a freshman at the college. “I think that’s freedom of cruelty.”

The panel features Roger Waters of the band Pink Floyd, as well as Linda Sarsour, one of the founders of the Women’s March.

The panelists are expected to argue that pro-Israel groups have tried to silence Palestinan points of view.

One UMass senior said there are ways to make sure all voices are heard during what could be a controversial discussion. 

“The students who think it was a bad idea could come and monitor it to see that nothing offensive is being said, but if they think something offensive is being said, and if it’s said in a fair way or in a way they interpret it as not being fair, then they should go and share their opinions and share the other side,” said Gaurav Shashidhar, a UMass senior. 

UMass released the following statement regarding the planned forum:

The event scheduled for May 4 on the UMass Amherst campus is being presented by a private foundation. The foundation has, as many non-UMass organizations regularly do, rented space on campus to host its panel discussion. No university or taxpayer funds are being used to support the event.

UMass Amherst is committed to fostering a community of dignity and respect and rejects all forms of bigotry. The campus is also firmly committed to the principles of free speech and academic freedom. As such, and as is required of a public institution under the First Amendment, UMass Amherst applies a content-neutral standard when making facilities available to outside organizations for the purpose of holding events.

The principle of academic freedom extends to both individual faculty members and to faculty-led academic departments. Departmental sponsorship of various types of events does not constitute an endorsement of the views expressed at those events, rather it is an endorsement of the exploration of complex and sometimes difficult topics. Promoting the free exchange of ideas is one of the most important functions of the university. Our faculty members draw upon their fields of study and expertise to engage in the issues of the day, distinct from a personal political agenda.

The opinions expressed by participants at the May 4 event and other such events do not represent the views of the University. And, as has been stated repeatedly, the University remains firmly opposed to academic boycotts of any kind, including BDS.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the end of the 19th Century, and long-term peace has remained elusive due to conflicts over land claims, settlements, and numerous other issues.

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