A 15-Year-old British student’s speech at a prestigious competition set off a barrage of online abuse, to the extent that she had to get the police involved.
Leanne Mohamad of Wanstead High School, London, was crowned the winner at the regional final of 2015-16 “Speak Out” Challenge, the world's “biggest youth speaking event.” But the video of her entry was removed from the website of Speakers Trust, the London-based body behind the competition.
Her speech, titled “Birds Not Bombs,” was, in a nutshell, an impassioned plea for Palestinian rights.
A lot of her critics claim her speech was anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. However, a review of her nearly three-minute long argument shows that it was neither.
Mohamad, who is Palestinian herself, made the case for the rights of Palestinian civilians, especially children, who are indeed suffering at the hands of Israeli military as well as Hamas militants. She also cited a personal example; the death of her 1-year-old “refugee” cousin who died a few weeks ago in Gaza due to a heart condition. She claimed he wasn’t provided proper medical care because he was a Palestinian.
While the teenager criticized Israeli government’s discriminatory policies — a well-documented phenomenon — she didn’t say anything that could qualify as a threat to Israel’s existence or anti-Semitic.
Yet, an anti-Palestinian blogger named Edgar Davidson wrote to the Speakers Trust and claimed that Mohamad’s three-minute speech consisted of “solid lies and blood libels.”
Following Davidson’s complaint, the Speakers Trust took down the video from their website, a move that set off reports that the organizers had disqualified her. Mohamed also posted the following tweet in response:
Why is it called a "Speak Out Challenge" when I am then silenced?— Leanne Mohamad? (@LeanneMohamad) May 29, 2016
However, the organizers denied the rumors, saying her speech was removed due to “concerns” that the speech could be “potentially inflammatory.”
“Our concerns were whether it was upbeat enough and whether it was potentially inflammatory, but it was absolutely not disqualified for those reasons. Those concerns have been misconstrued into a claim that she has been disqualified because we took the video down, as we were unable to moderate the comments over the weekend.”
Meanwhile, Mohamed tweeted she received a lot of hate messages on the internet, so much so that she said she had to inform the police:
Absolutely appalled to receive such hateful messages from adults on twitter.I'm 15 years old,you should be ashamed.Police have been informed— Leanne Mohamad? (@LeanneMohamad) May 29, 2016
But there were also a lot of people who spoke in Mohamed’s favor. A petition on Change.org was also posted urging the competition organizers to “uncensor” her speech.
The video was reposted to the website and Mohamed expressed her gratitude to her supporters:
I would like to thank everyone for all the wonderful support I have received, overwhelmingly from so many of you that I do not know.— Leanne Mohamad? (@LeanneMohamad) June 1, 2016