British Jewish Leaders Outraged by London University Anti-Israel Protest Which Required Police Intervention
Leaders of Britain’s Jewish community expressed outrage on Friday after a lecture on Thursday night by a former IDF soldier at a London university was stormed by protesters, resulting in the arrival of the police.
Marie van der Zyl, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said in a statement, “We deplore the aggressive and intimidating protests which disrupted a student event in UCL (University College London)…It is disgraceful that in a society which values free speech, students at a top UK university cannot host an open event without being harassed.”
Van Der Zyl also referred to the anti-Israel protesters — who trapped students and visitors inside a lecture hall during the talk by Israeli peace activist Hen Mazzig — as a “hate-filled mob supporting the worst kind of extremism in the Middle East,” who “serve only to bully and threaten.”
The Board said it will be taking its concerns to the government and called on UCL “to initiate a strong disciplinary process against the perpetrators.”
That message was echoed by the Israeli Embassy in London, writing in a statement posted on Twitter: “We are concerned by the shameful violence recorded at last night’s event at UCL aimed at preventing an Israeli speaker from engaging students. We are confident the university will be investigating those responsible.”
Footage of the event shows officers warning people not to leave the lecture room without police escort, as the environment outside was too hazardous. On the video, protesters are heard shouting slogans like, “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” As the audience was led out of the lecture hall, they were followed by chants of, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Devora Khafi, a student at Queen Mary University London who attended the program, tweeted:
— Devora Khafi (@DevoraKhafi) October 27, 2016
Subsequent footage, revealed that protesters climbed through windows to access the room the audience was in. One event attendee is seen yelling at the anti-Israel demonstrators, “Stand up, you bloody cowards,” as they tried to hide their faces from cameras.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) called the incident “an absolute disgrace,” and said in a statement, “There can be no excuses for the events that took place at UCL…Whatever your position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no place for intolerance and intimidation like was seen last night at UCL on university campuses.”
UJS also commended those who organized and attended the event.
Natacha Woodcock, events and support coordinator at UJS, told The Algemeiner, that the organization would continue to work with student unions and others to promote “respectful dialogue on Israel-Palestine rather than the importing of hate and conflict.” She added that UJS will be working with UCL student groups and staff “to avoid a repeat of such intimidating scenes.”
The National Union of Students — whose president, Malia Bouattia, has been accused of undermining efforts to combat antisemitism on-campus — said it would not comment on the incident.
CAMERA on Campus, which co-organized the lecture together with UCL Friends of Israel, had brought Hen Mazzig on a world tour to speak about his experiences in the IDF as an openly gay commander who worked with COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories).
Aviva Slomich, international director of CAMERA on Campus, told The Algemeiner, “At UCL these ‘protestors’ — though thugs might be a better way to describe them — who were supposedly representing the Palestinian side, physically attacked and emotionally harassed those who are actually working towards a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israelis and the Palestinians.”
“The fact that the police couldn’t keep the speaker or the students safe from their own peers displays how deeply serious the security concerns for Israel supporters are in London,” Slomich said. “Will UCL suspend the Palestine Society on campus for their egregious actions and for inciting violence, or will Hen be deemed too controversial to speak on campus, in essence supporting those who use intimidation and violence to censor others?”
In an official statement from UCL, the university said it does “not condone acts of intimidation or violence under any circumstances,” but “acknowledge[s] the right to peaceful protest.” The school called the protesters a “small but noisy group,” that was “non-violent.”
The university added, “As this was a public event, it is unclear how many UCL students were present but we are instigating an enquiry and we will take appropriate disciplinary action where there is clear evidence that students may have breached our disciplinary regulations.”
Sir Eric Pickles, the parliamentary chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, said the episode “provide[s] another sad insight into the levels of intimidation and harassment that Jewish and Israeli students can experience on university campuses across the UK.” He added that it seems “antisemitism [is] lurking behind some hard-line anti-Israel ‘activists.'”
Pickles, who recently spoke at UCL for a Holocaust remembrance conference without incident, said “Free speech must be guaranteed and protected for all.”
As The Algemeiner has reported, this is not the first time UK campuses have seen extreme protests in response to an Israel-related event. In January 2016, violence broke out at King’s College London during a lecture by Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet security agency, at which one Jewish student was assaulted.
Watch footage from the incident at UCL below:
— CrassusDT -C (@CrassusDT) October 28, 2016