50 student leaders condemn protest against Israeli ambassador

As current and former students at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the University of London,  we were shocked to see reports in national media, describing a volatile and aggressive demonstration organised by fellow students in protest of a talk on Tuesday evening given by Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK.

The ambassador was taking part in an event on the future of the Middle East, hosted by the LSE Student Union Debating Society.

Debating societies should be a space for all perspectives and views to be heard, and next week the society is scheduled to host Husam Zomlot, Palestine’s Ambassador to the UK.

The importance of freedom of speech, however, is sadly not a view shared by all students at LSE. As can be seen in video footage, protestors behaved aggressively, employing chants allegedly calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.

During the event, police officers were deployed to guard the entrance to the building where the event was taking place, and students have reported being blocked from attending classes due to this. The Ambassador herself was forced to flee the event, protected by at least six security guards, while uniformed police held back a large and potentially violent crowd.

We are particularly repulsed and disturbed by Instagram posts from LSE’s “Class War” society, inciting students to act violently and smash the windows of the Ambassador’s car. It is shocking and odious that the broken glass motif was used in threats to a Jewish speaker on the anniversary of 1938’s Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) nonetheless.

Calls for violent intimidation and the most repulsive kinds of censorship have no place in LSE. The purpose of a student debating society and university, in general, is to create a forum for the free exchange of diverse views and differing ideas. Freedom of speech should not stop when it involves Jewish, Zionist or Israeli speakers.

We call on our university to take strong, uncompromising and immediate disciplinary action against any student who threatens violence on the basis of someone’s beliefs or background. LSE must adhere to the values and ideals of its founders, and always take steps to protect freedom of speech within the law for all students and visiting speakers.

The letters lead signatures include Oliver Paterson, LSE student, President of the LSE SU Hayek Society and Policy Fellow with the Pinsker Centre*, Tom Clowes-Pritchard, Queen Mary University of London student and Director of Outreach with the Pinsker Centre, and myself, an alumnus of King’s College London and University College London, and former president of the KCL Libertarian society.

46 other student leaders have also signed the Pinsker-organised open letter condemning Tuesday evening’s events, including leaders from the Conservative and Labour societies, the Hayek Society, the Grimshaw Club, the Law Society and the Jewish Society. We expect more to sign throughout the day.

*The Pinsker Centre is a think tank focusing on global foreign policy, contemporary geopolitical issues facing the Middle East. We actively promote academic engagement and freedom of speech and seek to combat intolerance of both peoples and ideas.  

About the Author
Georgia Leigha Leatherdale Gilholy is a journalist and the director of media for the Pinsker Centre think tank. Follow her on Twitter @llggeorgia.
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