Ex-IDF Soldier Speaks at University College London as Protesters Call for Israel’s Destruction
A former Israeli soldier’s talk at University College London (UCL) on Thursday — billed as a defense of free speech — was met with student government-endorsed protests labeling him a “war criminal” and calls for the Jewish state’s destruction.
Hen Mazzig was invited to campus by administrators after his 2016 talk at UCL drew “hostile and abusive protestors,” who climbed through windows and used loudspeakers to interrupt his lecture, according to a university investigation. He ultimately had to leave the event with a police escort — a security measure that was also employed after his latest talk on campus.
The event drew criticism from several fronts, including some Jewish community members who viewed UCL’s decision to restrict attendance to its students and staff — a move the university insisted was necessary to ensure the safety of all — as a capitulation to the protesters who interrupted Mazzig’s 2016 talk.
A petition signed by over 2,800 people noted that as most individuals affected by the 2016 disruption were not from UCL, they would therefore once again be unable to hear Mazzig speak. It also accused the university of failing to sufficiently advertise the event, a charge dismissed by a UCL spokesperson who pointed out that the sold-out talk — which was chaired by UCL President and Provost Michael Arthur — was “publicised on staff and student newsletters.”
The petition was submitted to administrators earlier this week by Alexandra Taic, president of UCL’s Friends of Israel Society, along with Tamara Berens, president of King’s College London’s Israel Society, and Khulan Davaajav, president of SOAS University of London’s Jewish Society. All three students are involved with the advocacy organization CAMERA on Campus UK.
Yet the event also drew fire from UCL’s Friends of Palestine Society, which described it as “the normalisation of apartheid and occupation.” The group advertised their demonstration against the event with a poster featuring a picture of Mazzig — a former IDF humanitarian officer — under the headline, “War criminal at UCL?”
The poster was later shared by UCL Students’ Union’s Instagram account on Wednesday evening, according to screenshots seen by The Algemeiner. It has since been removed.
“It’s appalling that the UCL Union, which is supposed to support and represent the voice of all students, would even consider posting such a blatantly antisemitic poster,” said Berens.
About 60 people congregated in the UCL Quad in response to the Palestine Society’s call, where they chanted slogans including, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” according to video footage. The saying refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, in place of Israel.
In its 2016 probe into protests surrounding Mazzig’s event, UCL acknowledged that “this chant appears to be calling for the destruction of the state of Israel,” observed Liron Velleman, campaigns manager at the UK’s Union of Jewish Students.
“This goes beyond calls for a ‘free Palestine’ which can also refer to geographically adjacent states of Israel and Palestine,” UCL’s report read, “and if calling for destruction of the state of Israel could be considered anti-Semitic.”
This criticism was shared by Berens, who demonstrated against the Palestine Society’s “anti-Semitic” calls along with a smaller group of Zionist activists.
“As we tried to reach out for dialogue with food and open words, we were pushed away,” she recalled. “When we did manage to speak to one or two Palestinian students demonstrating, others among them would come to break us up, saying ‘Don’t respond to them.’”
Davaajav, who was also in attendance, said students demonstrating against Mazzig “called us terrorists and when we asked for dialogue, they shut us down with a megaphone.”
“Tonight I witnessed Jewish students dancing, singing and celebrating life while the UCL Friend of Palestine Society members were trying to intimidate us,” she said. “The times when we hid and let others insult us are gone.”
The UCL Friends of Palestine Society and UCL Students’ Union did not immediately respond to requests for comments.