The core components of what university is supposed to be about – learning, debating, challenging our own viewpoints – have come under assault from professors, students, and those who do not believe in the exchange of ideas.
We have come to a time where the university environment doesn’t promote the right to free speech and open debate. This trend has been present across the UK, but notably at some universities in London such as UCL, where an upcoming talk by Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig has come under attack by the UCL Friends of Palestine Society.
In 2016, Mazzig was scheduled to speak at an event sponsored by CAMERA on Campus UK at UCL. His experiences working as a humanitarian officer in the IDF’s COGAT unit and his diverse family background were to be the topics of discussion. UCL unfairly cancelled the event due to pressure from the Friends of Palestine Society and when the event was reinstated following outcry from the Jewish community, SOAS Palestine Society and UCL Friends of Palestine Society forcefully prevented the event from taking place through a violent protest.
Students who came to listen and engage in meaningful conversation had to instead barricade themselves inside the event room, while a mob of aggressive protesters called for destruction of Israel, while they banged on the windows. Protesters even forced the windows open, one of them landing directly on me. These protesters claim to have higher moral standards, but don’t mind aggressively pushing into female students and shouting, “You Jewish pig!” Tens of police officers were called in to ensure we could leave the room safely.
In alarming contrast, UCL recently allowed controversial anti-Israel speakers, Miko Peled and Azzam Tamimi, to address a full lecture hall. Prior to the event, more than 200 Jewish students wrote a letter to the university expressing their concerns about the impact the speakers will have on the students who attend the event.
This event was permitted by UCL to be publicly advertised. However, when the UCL Friends of Israel Society invited Israeli counter-terrorism specialist Amos Yadlin to speak on campus, the university and student union decided that the event had to be executed secretly to “not offend” the Friends of Palestine Society members who would call for a protest.
The double standard displayed here is incredibly disturbing.
It is commendable that UCL is working toward the promotion of free speech with its invitation for Mazzig this month.
However, many of the victims of the 2016 October attack are prohibited from attending UCL’s upcoming event on the basis that they are not UCL students.
As my colleague KCL Israel Society President and CAMERA on Campus Associate Tamara Berens said, “We are shocked that an event that is meant to serve as a symbol for free speech and making amends with the Jewish community is not permitting the student victims of the attack on the event of 2016 to be a part of it.” The SOAS Jewish Society, UCL Friends of Israel Society, and KCL Israel Society encourage you to take action by signing this petition to UCL in response.
MP Jo Johnson recently stated that “The number of antisemitic incidents in our universities are a reason for concern. That is simply unacceptable.”
Yet no effective measures have been taken. There are no educational initiatives on what constitutes anti-Semitism being promoted at universities. Johnson’s sentiment is not enough. As a student in Britain, why is it permissible for us to be threatened because of our views? Universities must stop providing a platform for political violence and intimidation, end the double standard toward speakers and student groups, and allow us to learn from accurate sources and academics in an environment where debate is encouraged.