Note: The following piece was originally published in The Times of Israel on 12 November 2014.
Terms we would never expect, ‘Pariah State’, ‘No-go zone’ and ‘unacceptable to take a pro-Israel stance,’ these were some sound bites from an informal event held by the UCL Jewish and UCL Friends of Israel Societies before the Ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub delivered a public speech to the UCL International Relations Society. The situation on campuses all over the UK, but particularly in London, has become so hostile that even those who simply assert Israel’s right to exist get shouted down. It was a shame to witness certain individuals who were not prepared to engage in constructive dialogue, resorting to aggressive shouting which undermines their argument.
Both events attended by the Ambassador took place Monday afternoon, despite the best efforts of UCLU Union to close the JSOC one down. A union representative was not concerned about Taub attending – but something ‘precludes this event happening to do with our stance on Israel / Palestine.’ An awful excuse for the obvious illiberal attempt to deprive us of our right to a different opinion.
During the public lecture, a number of protestors engaged with the Ambassador – and were allowed the platform for a long period of time, despite the heavy security which involved the Metropolitan police. A popular tactic of anti-Israel protestors is to embed themselves in the lecture theatre and rise up every five minutes, accusing the speaker of representing ‘a terrorist state’ – and entity apparently responsible for mass genocide and ethnic cleansing. Ambassador Taub disputed the more extreme accusations, yet acknowledged the well-known investigations into IDF conduct in Gaza over the summer during Operation Protective Edge.
However, this did not pacify the protestors who continued to spout hatred and refused to accept the Ambassador’s plea to stay and debate the key issues. What was heartening from my perspective as a British Zionist Jew was the reaction of my fellow students. A number of them called for the protestors to leave, wanting the Ambassador to speak and take questions after his lecture on negotiation. The theoretical and practical complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations coupled with the experience Taub had in this field, attracted them to the event. They wanted to hear the Ambassador out fairly. The IR society that hosted the event was completely independent from the Union – and with a staff member from the Philosophy department mediating, there virtually no politicisation of the event – something which was only punctured by the two protestors who were dragged away. Despite safety concerns, we were able to engage in constructive dialogue which the Ambassador even extended to the protestors – who somewhat undermined their own position by refusing to argue their case and resort to shouting.
The verbal abuse and heckling of Taub did not gain them any support in the room which met their exit with a round of applause. I had met one of the protesters, a certain Layth Hanabli, during ‘ Israeli Apartheid Week.’ He didn’t seem to realise that frustratingly shouting at people doesn’t convince anyone. It is no surprise that he disrupted the event. This so-called ‘activist’ is also well-known for denying Israel’s right to exist in its current form – and for his morally defending Hamas rocket attacks. Mr. Hanabli was allowed to vent his distasteful views at the Ambassador – so what justifies preventing the Ambassador from a right of reply? This didn’t present the Palestinian cause well – and many students were put off by the aggression exhibited by Mr Hanabli, a Palestinian from Nablus.
Daniel Gross, my counterpart as UCL JSOC Co-President, denounced the protestors. “The best chance for a Two State solution is dialogue and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. Do these people think they are helping the Palestinians? Or really are they showing their true Anti-Israel views? Would they disrupt an event with a Saudi Ambassador or an Iranian or a Chinese or Russian to name a few countries with terrible human rights abuses? I really don’t think they would.”
This sentiment really encapsulates the problem on UK campuses; one of double standards. The coalition of pro-Palestine agitators is only bound by common negativity- by a wide ranging threat of anti-Israeli sentiment. If you ask them what values they stand for – whether it be equality for women, gay rights and freedom of speech – they are nearly always at odds with the political stances and style of activism the Palestine Solidarity campaigners tend to adopt. When it comes to having a platform to air their views, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Friends of Palestine believe it is one rule for them and another rule for the pro-Israel camp. Perhaps today was a sign that students are slowly starting to see the ridiculous double-standards which censors and silences one opinion to placate extremists holding another.