STATEMENT TO CLARIFY POSITION ON FREE SPEECH AND THE USE OF NO PLATFORM, SAFE SPACE AND SIMILAR SUCH POLICIES ON UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES IN THE UK AND IRELAND
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) is the national representative body for Jewish students on university campuses in the UK and Ireland. Since its founding in 1974, UJS has promoted a stance of pluralism, tolerance and respect for divergent views. It has therefore viewed with concern the recent debate over the use of No Platform, Safe Space and other similar policies to stifle controversial views and restrict freedom of speech on university campuses. In the light of the current controversy, UJS has decided to clarify its position in this area.
UJS has been an integral campaigning force within the student movement against racism, fascism and antisemitism, as well as other forms of discrimination. The creation of a safe environment on university campuses for Jewish students and other minority groups to engage in religious and cultural activities is a key tenet of UJS’s mission. Unsurprisingly therefore, UJS has long been a supporter of clear and explicit No Platform policies. These policies evolved in the 1970s as a specific response to the threat of far-right violence, and were a key tool by which student unions could deny legitimacy to organizations that included violence, and the incitement of violence and hatred, as part of their political operations. They made our university campuses a place for robust debate and exchange of ideas, in an environment free from fear and physical intimidation. Such policies continue to be an important tool for the protection of Jewish students on campus from violent racists, fascists and some religious extremists, and to ensure that other minorities are not similarly threatened. UJS has also welcomed the increased focus in recent years on a duty of care for students and the introduction of external speaker guidelines by many institutions.
However, UJS is deeply concerned that No Platform, Safe Space and other similar policies have increasingly gone beyond protecting students from speakers who incite violence and hatred and have been used to restrict free speech and silence debate on university campuses, by denying a platform to speakers on the basis that their views were perceived to be offensive or disagreeable. It is particularly worrying that those within society most crucial to ensuring the free exchange of ideas, journalists, public intellectuals, and academics, have been denied a platform to speak during the past year.
Banning speakers on the basis of offence risks discrediting No Platform policies and thus diminishes their value in protecting students from individuals and organizations that propagate violence and incite hatred. It needs to be acknowledged that racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny and other forms of bigotry do exist within our society. However unpalatable a speaker’s views may be, provided they conduct themselves within the law, the best way to defeat them is not to censor, but rather to confront and challenge them.
Moving forwards, UJS will only continue to support the denial of a platform to a speaker where that would protect students from the threat of, and incitement of, violence and hatred. UJS will also work with others in the student movement to oppose the current wave of censorship, promote free speech while challenging offensive and inflammatory speakers. It will seek to abide by and promote the following principles:
- Freedom of speech on campus is fundamental to democracy and pluralism
Freedom of speech is a vital democratic right that must be upheld by our universities and student unions. There will be times when Jewish students and other minority groups will hear views that they find offensive. This reflects the wider society in which we live and students must be allowed to hear and debate the broad range of opinions that exists.
- Clear and precise No Platform policies continue to have a role in the fight against violent racism, fascism and other forms of discrimination
There remains a need for ‘real’ and targeted No Platform policies, that protect students from speakers and organisations that incite violence and hatred.
UJS will therefore call for platforms to continue to be denied only to those speakers who have a history of inciting violence and hatred, or who may be members or associates of groups that incite violence and hatred.
UJS will therefore continue to support the No Platform for the organisations listed by the NUS.
- No Platform, Safe Space and other similar policies should not be used for censorship. Any attempt to do so is self-defeating
No Platform, Safe Space and other similar policies should never be used to silence speakers on the basis of their opinions, however unpalatable they may be, provided such speakers do not fall within paragraph 2 above.
UJS believes that offensive or controversial opinions can best be defeated by being vigorously challenged and debated, rather than silenced. Attempts to stifle dissenting voices will only have the effect of discrediting No Platform, Safe Space and other similar policies as a tool to combat violence and hate speech.
- UJS will work with others in the student movement to challenge controversial speakers
UJS is committed to fighting bigotry and intolerance. It stands shoulder to shoulder with colleagues in the student liberation movements to fight the discrimination and prejudice that exist on campuses as a reflection of broader society.
Aside from existing guidelines, there are many ways to challenge speakers without banning them. UJS will work with its Jewish student members, and its allies, to campaign, educate, and debate to create a more tolerant environment on campus today and for future generations.