Fokus Israel 2020 HelsinkiHelsinki, March 10th, 2020 – The European Coalition for Israel (ECI) has been denied access to a leading Finnish university with the explanation that such an educational event with a focus on Israel and Human Rights does not comply with the values and principles of the university. Having been asked for clarification of the decision, the administration refused to give a specific reason other than saying that it was a high-risk security event and that it had a political message. Despite these claims, the same university has in the past hosted several Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) events. The BDS movement has been declared to be anti-Semitic by both the German Bundestag and the Austrian Parliament, and by applying double standards to the Jewish state, also to be guilty of the new anti-Semitism today as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

“Being categorically denied access to a public venue at a state-funded university poses a great threat to freedom of expression in a pluralistic and democratic society which is said to promote dialogue and diversity of opinions”, said ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell on Monday March 9th. “If the administrators are able to silence voices which they do not agree with politically, this raises the obvious question on whether the university is meeting the requirement for public funding.”

As a next step ECI will seek an audience with the rector of the university concerned, as well as raise the issue in the relevant committee within the Finnish parliament. Meanwhile, ECI together with 15 other Finnish friends of Israel organisations hosted the “Fokus Israel” main event, a panel discussion on Monday at Think Corner of the University of Helsinki, where the theme of the evening was also Israel and Human Rights.

South-African barrister Olga Meshoe, who joined the event by video link, clearly debunked the myth, popular among certain segments of the human rights movement, that Israel is an apartheid state. “It is disrespectful and hurtful for black Africans when those who want to demonise the Jewish state compare systematic discrimination of blacks in South Africa under Apartheid with the situation for Palestinians in Israel today. Apartheid was a policy of systematic segregation where blacks could not go to the same schools as whites, could not be treated in the same hospitals or marry a white person. Nothing close to this is taking place in Israel today where Arab Israelis are represented in the Knesset as well as in the judiciary and go to the same schools as Jews. We do not have to misrepresent the truth in order to acknowledge suffering among the Palestinian people, but instead of giving in to revolutionary nostalgia, we need to face the truth and make their own leaders accountable”, she said.

Finnish panellist Varpu Haavisto asked what could be the motivation behind the generous state funding of anti-Israeli organisations, such as The World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme which sends young people to Israel to look out for alleged Israeli war crimes while turning a blind eye to the human rights violations and oppression of the Palestinian leadership. “Who is monitoring these monitors who are lavishly financed by the state aid and church organisations? Are these groups contributing to peace and reconciliation in the region, or are they in fact igniting more hate by their one-sided anti-Israeli sentiments?”, she asked.

British barrister and Oxford educated lawyer Natasha Hausdorff pointed out how international law is being systematically misrepresented by international NGOs which have a clear anti-Israeli agenda. Giving an overview of the most common misrepresentations in the current lawfare against Israel, she concluded that Israel cannot be accused of being an occupying power in a territory which does not belong to another state. “The disputed territories of Judea and Samaria never belonged to any other sovereign state”, she said as she quoted the principle of “uti possidetis juris”, a doctrine that stipulates that emerging states presumptively inherit their pre-independence administrative borders, in this case the administrative borders of the British Mandate for Palestine, which are still valid as the starting point for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. She encouraged the audience to engage in a civil society dialogue armed with the truth.

Tomas Sandell concluded the panel discussion by explaining how important it is that we keep an open and ongoing dialogue about these and other issues related to the Middle East, despite the forces at work which would want to silence us. Over the last few years when ECI has hosted similar educational events, Palestinian panellists have had to cancel their attendance for fear for repercussions from the Palestinian authorities.

“Also, in our democratic societies, there are those who oppose free and open debate”, he said. “But if we want to preserve an open society where we are allowed to express different opinions, we need to make sure that voices with full respect for democratic values and principles are not silenced by those who disagree on political or ideological grounds.”

The panel discussion, which was moderated by Risto Huvila, was part of a three-day educational campaign to inform and discuss issues related to Israel and human rights and will conclude tomorrow Wednesday March 11th with events in Tampere.