The government has condemned a violent mob that ran riot during a talk by the former head of Israel’s secret service at a top London university.
Police were called to King’s College London last night as anti-Israel protesters set off fire alarms, smashed a window while chanting “Free, free Palestine!” at the event featuring former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon at King’s College.
The event’s co-host Esther Endfield, claims she was “assaulted” during the uproar. A police spokesperson responded by saying: “Officers from Westminster are investigating an allegation of assault and criminal damage at a protest.”
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson told Jewish News: “Britain and Israel share many important academic links and speakers must be able to address meetings peacefully. Our universities should be safe spaces for students to expand their minds, and there can be no justification for violent intimidation that curtails free speech.”
In a statement, King’s College said: “The safety of our students, staff and the general public is paramount to us and we are committed to acting as a responsible organisation.”
Professor Ed Byrne has ordered an “urgent investigation of the events around last night’s talk to establish what happened and what action might need to be taken as a consequence.”
He “will also be writing to students to remind them that violent protest is totally unacceptable and that we expect them to be tolerant and respectful of others’ views and opinions.”
“We do not, and will not, condone the use of any form of violent protest.”
King’s College London Student Union (KCLSU) told Jewish News: “We strongly support free speech- student groups should be able to host external speakers.. However, we don’t support violent action taking place, especially around our students, and we don’t support action leading to an approved event closing early.
We’ve seen reports on social media of students feeling frightened and intimidated- we take this very seriously.. We’re looking into how we move forward from this to make sure all our students are safe, and able to discuss, debate and learn in environments that are supportive and inclusive of all.”
The Union of Jewish Students said: “There can be no justification for the events last night at KCL. The KCLSU Israel society were hosting an event about peace and were greeted by violence and intimidation.
The fact that the police had to be called by the university in order to protect students from fellow students is a disgrace. It is however important to note that these acts were caused by a loud minority. Just 25 people managed to disrupt an event attended by nearly 60 while over 100 others who wished to hear the speaker and engage positively were turned away as there was no more space for them.
UJS added that it “commends the organisers for their commitment. The intimidation of last night will not stop Jewish students across the country from ensuring that campus can be presented with a balanced debate about Israel”.
London Student Chaplain Rabbi Gavin Broder commented: “I am deeply disturbed by the shameful scenes of intimidation, vandalism and violence at the joint Kings College and LSE Israel Society event. Universities, as we know, should seek to foster safe spaces for open debate and discussion. While disruption is sadly not unusual at such events, this evident escalation, which included destruction and physical harm, is clearly completely unacceptable.”
Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush and Vice President Marie van der Zyl jointly condemned the actions as “violent and criminal.”
“We have come to expect disruption from anti-Israel factions which oppose free speech and free expression but in an open and tolerant society such as ours everyone should be able to hold public discussions without fearing for their safety and having to call for police assistance.
“We call for any individuals involved in criminal activities to be expelled and prosecuted. Information on the culprits should be passed to all university authorities. Any societies involved in the violence should be warned that similar future actions will lead to their proscription.”
The Israeli Embassy in the UK added: “Last night’s violence at King’s College London, during an event with Ami Ayalon, is shocking and shameful. It reflects the fear that groups centred around hatred of Israel harbour toward those who promote dialogue and a peaceful solution in our region.
The Embassy of Israel is deeply concerned by this incident, and will turn to the relevant British authorities, to ensure that visiting Israeli speakers are not harassed on UK campuses.”
Source: Jewish News