British Jews ‘Appalled’ by King’s College London Protest Against Former Israeli Minister
The representative body of British Jewry said it’s “appalled” by a protest staged at King’s College London (KCL) on Monday against a lecture by a former Israeli minister, during which audience members “were barracked and intimidated in a completely unacceptable way.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned some 50 protesters who targeted individuals entering and exiting a talk with Dan Meridor — a former deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence in the Israeli government — with loud chants of “shame” and “criminal,” according to video footage.
“It was very aggressive,” recounted Tamara Berens, president of King’s College London’s Israel Society, which helped bring Meridor to campus. “The event was severely disrupted due to the amount of noise they were making throughout.”
“Even with double doors, we could still hear them screaming,” she told The Algemeiner. “Sometimes they weren’t even saying words, they would just scream at the top of their lungs.”
“I felt very unsafe throughout the event and especially when we had to leave and enter the room,” Berens said.
She indicated that KCL’s security officials had previously assured event organizers that members of the public would not be allowed to protest inside the building.
“They let us down by betraying their promise and allowing people to enter,” Berens explained. “There were protestors present who had previously seriously intimidated students at other events, at [University College London] for example.”
These concerns were shared by the Board, whose president said on Tuesday that failures on behalf of KCL’s event management “allowed these scenes to take place.”
“The deficiencies came in not ensuring that the demonstrators were adequately separated from those attending the event,” Simon Round, a spokesperson for the Board, told The Algemeiner. He indicated that the group hopes to speak with KCL’s principal on Wednesday or Thursday.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) — which represents some 8,500 students in the UK and Ireland — also expressed deep disappointment that attendees “were intimidated and harassed” by protestors who “sought to drown out the speaker.”
“Debate and discussion are vital aspects of university life, as is the right to protest,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday. “However, intimidating those who try to hear a variety of views with chants of ‘Shame’ is not conducive to informed and respectful dialogue, which should be front and centre of university life.”
UJS pointed to protesters’ use of the chant, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free,” which refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, in place of Israel.
The group said that “this open demand for Israel’s destruction must have no place on any campus.”
Like Berens and the Board, UJS noted that university security personnel had told organizers that demonstrators would not be allowed inside the building where the event was set to take place.
“Sadly, this did not happen and the shameful scenes of attempted intimidation then ensued,” the group asserted. “We are now in contact with students and campus security at Kings College London, seeking constructive actions regarding both this event and the future.”
The Pinsker Centre for Zionist Education, which plans campus events on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and co-hosted Meridor, said on Monday that it did not oppose students’ “democratic right” to peacefully protest, but noted that “the sacred right to freedom of speech is also extended to visiting Israeli lecturers, including Mr Meridor.”
The Centre — founded following a violent protest against the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency at KCL in 2016 — said those “responsible for tonight’s protest cannot possibly lay claim to the right of free speech while simultaneously calling to deny that right to others.”
“The calls to singularly boycott only visiting Israeli lecturers remain both discriminatory and in fundamental violation of the concept of freedom of expression,” it argued.
A spokesperson for KCL said that the university reviews campus events before they take place, and places “additional conditions in place” on those that may pose potential risks.
“These conditions include recording the speeches to ensure that the events take place within the law, an independent event chair, additional security in place and having senior representatives of the university and the Students’ Union in attendance,” the university said.
“We are proud of our diverse community and are absolutely committed to academic freedom and free, peaceful and respectful dialogue where people have conflicting views.”
In its submission to a recent parliamentary probe on UK universities, the Board warned that “Free speech is being curtailed in the name of pro-Palestinian activism by shutting down through violence speakers who originate from Israel.”
Over the course of the same inquiry, the advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLI) argued in written testimony that campus events organized by Jewish or pro-Israel clubs “have been deliberately closed down by violent riots organised by Palestinian societies on a number of occasions in recent years.”
To lessen the risk of such interruptions, administrators and student unions have imposed certain restrictions on events with pro-Israel speakers, UKLI asserted. These range from limiting public advertising and permitting entry only to ticket holders with a valid ID, to requiring the presence of security personnel, which Jewish and pro-Israel societies are sometimes asked to pay for.
“Thus the current position tends to be that meetings with Israel-supporting speakers can go ahead at British universities, but often only under onerous conditions which make it unlikely that they will be attended by students who are not already sympathetic to Israel,” UKLI wrote. “By contrast, there are rarely any similar restrictions on anti-Israel speakers, who often deliver highly misleading propaganda, inflaming hostility towards Israel and those who support it.”