The University of Sydney will allow Palestinian-American Ali Abunimah to speak on campus after initially blocking an attempt to book a room on behalf of the globally famous writer and advocate. Abunimah is a prominent supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, and a co-founder of the well-followed website The Electronic Intifada.
As reported this morning, local organisers of the event were stunned after their attempts to book a room were rebuffed by the University without explanation. Just four days before the event was scheduled to take place, members of the Palestinian Action Group were told Sydney University had rejected their booking for the event, despite the fact they had already paid a deposit and had the room’s availability confirmed.
However, after being contacted for comment this morning, the University of Sydney backtracked, appearing to give the event the go-ahead.
“In the course of a regular screening process, campus security was alerted to the fact that Mr Abunimah did not yet have a valid visa. As a result, the event was cancelled,” a spokesperson said.
“As Mr Abunimah now has a valid visa, the event can proceed as planned.
“The University is an institution deeply committed to free speech and open debate, and we welcome all those on campus who wish to engage in public discourse.”
Just five days before Abunimah was supposed to leave the United States to visit Australia his visa had still not been approved by Australian authorities, despite repeated attempts. Information in the Department of Immigration website suggests Abunimah was considered “high risk” by the Australian Government, although it remains unclear why.
On March 16 that application finally came through with a positive determination.
The University did not notify organisers that Abunimah’s booking had been cancelled until the next day, March 17, over 24 hours after his visa had been granted.
New Matilda approached the University of Sydney to explain the timing of the decision but they declined to comment further. They also declined to comment on who had “alerted” campus security to Abunimah’s visa issues.
In a series of tweets, Abunimah questioned the University’s justification.
Questions for @Sydney_Uni: Who “alerted” you to my visa delay? Why didn’t you defend my right to come speak instead of canceling sneakily?
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) March 18, 2016
Damian Ridgwell, from the Palestine Action Group, said he was happy the rights of people wanting to speak out in favour of Palestine had been upheld, but that the University’s explanation for its actions did not make sense.
“It’s another example of how people who stand in support of Palestine are constantly having to assert their rights of free speech to have these issues aired,” he said.
According to Ridgwell, the University had never contacted organisers to inquire about Abunimah’s visa status. He said the event would now go ahead on Monday night as planned.