A guest post by Harvey Garfield
Last Thursday in London, I attended a (CAMERA sponsored) UCL Jewish Society talk given by Hen Mazzig, an Israeli activist. I was well aware that with the Palestinian Facebook reminders of his status as an ex-officer of the IDF he stood no chance of speaking anywhere on the UCL campus, and when I arrived it soon became apparent that the original venue had been changed. It was no longer Archaeology G3, but an entirely different building and it took several calls to be updated of the new venue.
I arrived at the hastily arranged venue, only to be greeted by approx 60-80 pro-Palestinian supporters, mainly young Muslim women who had somehow got wind of the venue change. I was somewhat taken aback that there were so many women and I speculated whether this was an official strategy in order to present a softer side to Palestinian activism. If it was, the strategy failed since these women were more fanatical than many of the males I have encountered as part of my grass-roots pro-Israel activism . From the start they jostled for position directly in front of the doors in order to gain access and monopolise the room. They began a loud and passionate chorus of chants: ‘ River to the Sea Palestine will be Free’, etc which, as we all understand, puts paid to the very idea of a two state solution . In fact it puts paid to Israel as an independent Jewish homeland full stop. Several of the males were wearing keffiyehs covering their faces in order to avoid identification.
There were two university security guards present who were quite clearly overwhelmed by what was happening and who subsequently called the police. At this point the room was commandeered by the Palestinian side who had entered by a side door swiftly taking over the platform. Palestinian flags were unfurled and many of the women had whipped themselves up into a frenzy of anti-Israel hate.
By this time, there were a number of ‘ mature’ pro Israel supporters alongside the Jewish student society member, myself included. We left the building together and headed off to another venue where Hen was waiting. I’m not sure whether this was a contingency plan, but unfortunately we were tailed and once we reached the venue it was not long before the Palestinian supporters had been messaged and once again arrived in number. Hen and some of the students were already in the lecture room while others including myself were left outside, prevented from entering by clearly confused security guards unable to distinguish friend from foe.
However, several of us joined the security team in order to identify and provide safe passage inside for those wishing to hear Hen talk. The atmosphere outside was becoming increasingly hostile with no so-called safe spaces as ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ were thrust together. One Palestinian supporter noting my particular ‘demographic ‘ said that I should not be on campus. I asked what he meant, knowing full well, but he refused to elaborate.
Unbeknown to those of us still outside, several pro-Palestinian activists had launched themselves through a window with one knocking himself out cold and lying flat-out on the floor. I dread to think what would have happened to an Israel supporter in reverse circumstances. Anyone who has seen one of the apocalyptic Zombie movies will have some idea of the scene of a suicide entity blasting its way through to reach normal beings.
Finally, once all pro-Israel supporters were ushered in, the talk began. However, the chanting and banging on windows and doors grew louder making it difficult to concentrate. Loud Arabic music was played to add a little authenticity to the fascistic behaviour of the protestors, a sort of home from home experience.
At the end of the talk there was a spontaneous rendition of Hatikva. Students and elders alike danced the Hora and it was an incredibly special and emotional moment. Here were Jews under siege answering with song and a dance. No food but you cannot have everything.
The police had already spirited Hen away via a rear entrance but wanted us to leave in threes in order to monitor and make sure no one was assaulted. I was deeply offended by this, while understanding its necessity. How could it be that I as a British Jew accept the need for extraordinary protection in order to safely depart an event held on a UK campus in 2016?
Once out, we ran a gauntlet of haters screaming ’shame shame’ with the police keeping a watchful eye . What do I have to be ashamed of? My support for a Jewish homeland existing alongside a Palestinian state in peace and prosperity?
As a veteran of many such encounters, some far worse than this, I cannot in all honesty say I felt particularly threatened or anxious. It was pretty much water off the proverbial duck’s back. However here is the rub. It was very real and intimidating for inexperienced Jewish students, especially the freshers, who had never experienced such visceral hate and nor of course should have to. The very idea that a son or daughter of mine could be labelled as supporters of colonialism and apartheid and worse leaves me incandescent. One girl was left inconsolable having had such epithets screamed in her face and unable to move away.
The attendance by some twenty or so veterans, including a contingent from Sussex Friends of Israel who made the journey from Brighton, meant the Jewish students were not alone and I believe may have even slightly tempered the behaviour of the Palestinian activists .
It is utterly outrageous that Jewish students should find themselves intimidated in this manner with an Israeli guest prevented from speaking. Jews trapped in a room awaiting police escort on a London campus in 2016 is a serious matter and totally unacceptable. Pressure must be put on the university to deal with these wretched individuals, many of whom can be easily identified from video and still.
Where were our community organisations? Why was it left to grassroots activists to pull together and stand together with our Jewish student body? Questions which need answering but I am not holding my breath.
Finally, there was no negotiation with these people. Hen had become the public face of some demonic entity – Israel – which had to be excluded and quarantined from campus life at all cost.
I tried dialogue pointing out the carnage taking place across the Islamic world and asked why they were indifferent to the slaughter of their co-religionists in industrial numbers but they were not interested. Nothing could placate them. Israel was the focus of their universe and the fount of all evil with Hen as the object of their mania.
(A version of this post was originally published at Harry’s Place)