Tensions Flare as SOAS Students Promise Protest of Israeli Envoy Mark Regev’s Upcoming Talk on London Campus
As London students prepare to protest an upcoming on-campus talk by Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, the event’s moderator told The Algemeiner on Thursday he hoped attendees would maintain open minds.
Eric Heinze — a professor of law and humanities at the Queen Mary University of London’s School of Law and an outspoken defender of free speech — will be hosting the hotly-debated Regev event, scheduled to take place at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) this coming Thursday evening.
Heinze encouraged those eager “to engage with pose, politeness, and intelligence” on Israeli-Palestinian issues to come to the program, organized jointly by the SOAS Jewish Society (JSoc) and Model United Nations Society. Students who were “wholly and viciously hostile to all things Israeli, yet willing and able to listen” would be welcome, he noted.
It is unclear if anti-Israel students will participate, as SOAS Palestine Society (PalSoc) posted a statement on Facebook soon after the event was publicized denouncing it as “an official exercise in [Israeli] state propaganda” hiding under “the cover of an academic setting.”
The statement — signed by a coalition of 36 student groups, including the SOAS Israel Society — also blasted the administration for allowing the program to go forward, given a 2015 campus-wide vote in favor of BDS.
The student groups have promised an afternoon of counter-programming titled “Apartheid Off Campus.”
Heinze said though he personally “very strongly disagreed” politically with the protesters, he supported their right to demonstrate, “as long as they remain respectful and do not aim to obstruct the event through means of coercion or intimidation.”
Program organizers responded on Thursday to the PalSoc’s statement, writing on Facebook, “In order to form reasoned conclusions, one must listen and engage with as many of the different points of views that exist and critically analyse them…Hosting the Ambassador fits within our guidelines of providing an additional viewpoint that we will be able to challenge throughout the course of the evening.”
JSoc President Avrahum Sanger also rejected the claim that Regev’s security personnel would subject Palestinian staff and students “to the same questioning and searching they suffered living under military occupation in Palestine.”
The university administration commented on the controversy earlier this month, explaining that Regev was not invited by “SOAS as an institution,” but that administrators had worked with the student groups involved “to ensure that the event can take place safely.”
Regev will be the first Israeli diplomat to speak at SOAS since the February 2005 appearance of Roey Gilad, the minister-counselor for political affairs at the London embassy at the time.
The Israeli embassy said it would not comment at this time about the program or the planned protests.
The SOAS PalSoc did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.
Last month, as The Algemeiner exclusively reported, footage was released of SOAS students openly expressing support for terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. Some in the Jewish community wryly said the school’s acronym stands for “School Of Anti-Semitism.”