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LSHTM’s censorship of the truth about Palestine




Following concerns raised by LSHTM Leadership, a research centre at the School has removed reference to well-documented crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people by the Israeli authorities.


 

When first published, the following lines were included in a research centre statement on ‘Israel and Gaza’:


In light of the recent reports by Human Rights Watch (2021) stating that the Israeli authorities are committing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, we believe it is imperative to address these concerns and promote a just and peaceful resolution to this long standing situation”.

The inclusion of this reference provided a minimal acknowledgement of the violence perpetrated against the Palestinian people prior to and following the formation of the State of Israel 75 years ago. The wording above drew directly from language used by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a highly reputable international human rights organisation. The same language has since been adopted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory, Amnesty International, B'Tselem- The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, and Craig Mokhiber, the recently resigned Director of the New York Office of UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, among others.

Without notifying any centre members and without public acknowledgement of the amendment, the centre has since removed this wording from the statement. This decision followed concerns raised with the centre by LSHTM Leadership that some individuals within the institution had interpreted the statement as excusing Hamas actions.

The removal of these lines legitimises the false claim that naming and condemning the war crimes and systematic violence committed against Palestinian civilians by the State of Israel necessarily demonstrates/equates to support for violence against civilians in Israel. This is not only a ridiculous position which requires cognitive gymnastics to uphold, but a strategic and dangerous one which has the effect of silencing opposition to war crimes.


LSHTM Leadership and senior centre staff have a duty to take a strong stance in defence of academic freedom of expression, recognising the critical importance of contextual information at this time.


Israel’s latest crimes include the bombing of refugee camps, hospitals, ambulances, schools and universities, and the blockade of Gaza that is starving a population of more than 2 million individuals. These crimes must be situated within the history of systematic violence against the Palestinian people. Refusing to accurately label the crimes committed by the State of Israel is academically dishonest, a clear breach of academic freedom of expression, and contradictory to LSHTM’s efforts to decolonise both global health and humanitarian practice.

Importantly, the HRW language of ‘apartheid’ and ‘persecution’ by the State of Israel refers to the entirety of occupied Palestine, including the West Bank where Hamas does not operate. Palestine was occupied by Israel with illegal settlements long before Hamas existed as an entity. How can reference to the HRW findings then be legitimately interpreted as pro-Hamas? Since 7th October 2023, the West Bank has suffered at least 163 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military occupation, including at least 41 children and over 2,280 Palestinian men, women and children arrested through mass military raids.

When the UN Secretary General António Guterres addressed the Security Council on 23rd October 2023 to highlight that the 7th October attacks did not happen in a vacuum, he cited the same practices of apartheid referenced by HRW. Even though he had prefaced his statement by "unequivocally condemning the Hamas attacks", Israeli officials responded by saying the Secretary General was effectively justifying the Hamas attack, and demanded his immediate resignation.

This is strategic gaslighting, and LSHTM are playing into it by adopting the very same narrative. To suggest that naming and categorising practices of persecution and apartheid might be legitimately interpreted as excusing Hamas actions is inflammatory and a grave injustice to the Palestinian people.

How can this be justified?


It is wholly legitimate for academics and research centres to name and highlight apartheid, and cite highly reputable human rights organisations in doing so. LSHTM censoring citation of a HRW report and mention of apartheid (and by extension demonstrating the reductive framing it prefers), is a form of epistemic injustice and a pillar of coloniality, which LSHTM claims to be on a journey towards dismantling. LSHTM Leadership have said the Institution ‘cannot make political statements’, and are citing the need for ‘neutrality’. Yet, removing citation of a HRW report is in itself a highly political act.

LSHTM are effectively censoring academic freedom of speech, and supporting a dangerous trend of censorship in the UK at present. Last week, UKRI heeded Science Minister Michelle Donelan’s demands that its advisory board on equality be immediately dismantled due to one of its members publicly naming Israel's ‘genocide and apartheid’. In response, over 2,500 UK academics have now signed an open letter condemning this censorship.


LSHTM have a duty to take stand against such attacks on the freedom of academics to name and oppose the grave human rights violations by Israeli authorities, not contribute to them. Academic institutions must maintain a critical distance from state-sponsored propaganda, and provide a space to advocate for social justice and the upholding of human rights and international law to protect health and life.

We ask that LSHTM:

  1. Uphold its commitment to "act with integrity" by engaging in decolonisation efforts, addressing past and present injustices in Palestine, and fulfilling its mission to “improve health worldwide”.

  2. Take a stand against attacks on the freedom of academics to name and oppose human rights violations, instead of contributing to censorship.

  3. Encourage and facilitate open dialogue and discussions within its community on the intersection of healthcare and political determinants of health, instead of ignoring or concealing them.

  4. Reject the notion of neutrality, emphasising that neutrality in this context is a tacit endorsement of disparities and political inequalities within global public health.

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