[BRICUP’s update (29 January 2022): At a meeting yesterday between Shahd Abusalama, and her UCU branch officers, on the one hand, and Sheffield Hallam management and Human Resources, on the other, Shahd’s teaching was restored, and the management undertook that, from now on, it would follow the formally agreed investigatory procedure to the letter.]
Dear Professor Husbands
I write on behalf of BRICUP, an organisation concerned about the academic dimensions of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and its crushing siege of Gaza. Our members are all UK academics, many of them Jewish, or disciplinary specialists in relevant fields, or both.
Shahd Abusalama has every right to communicate forcefully on the treatment of her country. Yet Sheffield Hallam has proceeded to suspend her teaching before, not after, an investigation. That your university did this within days of the Jewish Chronicle signalling its intention of publishing an article attacking some of her social media posts is deeply troubling. It seems that you have preferred to put managing what you see as potential reputational damage ahead of protecting free expression and indeed academic freedom.
I note that your university has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This has been fashioned not as a means of identifying instances of prejudice, hostility or hatred against Jews as Jews, but rather as a mechanism for blurring the meaning of ‘antisemitism’ so that it can serve as a protective shield against criticisms of Israel. It is both an intellectual disgrace and a rolling disaster for free speech. I fear that its malign influence, whether directly or indirectly, has contributed to your deeply regrettable decision.
Both you and the University that you lead have a responsibility under the law to preserve academic freedom and free speech. You also have a duty of care to your staff and students, of whom Shahd Abusalama is one, falling into both categories. She is a stateless person who spent her formative years under a vicious siege in a small territory subjected to repeated military assaults. Her father spent over a decade in prison for actions which if he were British we would recognise as entirely patriotic.
Awareness and sensitivity is growing about the oppressions and cruelties of the past, in which Britain has often played a leading role, and about the racist
attitudes that underpinned them. Your university’s action against Shahd Abusalama seems to suggest that, uniquely, it should only be Palestinians who are denied the right to discuss, research and name the nature of their condition.
Your action against Ms Abusalama has given comfort to those attempting to protect Israel from justified criticism. It will encourage them to make further attacks on those who speak up for Palestinian rights. Can I urge you to undo some of the damage by reinstating Ms Abusalama pending your investigation, which I believe will show that her presence and activities on campus can be a bonus, not a threat, to your university’s standing.
Chair, British Committee for the Universities of Palestine