Building an Antisemitic Front? Omar Barghouti Comes to KCL

Omar Barghouti is no stranger to controversy. Born into a Palestinian family but raised in Egypt, he later studied in the US and Israel. In 2005, he became a co-founder of the antisemitic Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, that seeks to severe economic and academic ties with Israel, as a prelude to its elimination. Barghouti’s perceived expertise was lauded at King’s College London last Monday, where he was welcomed to discuss “Building an anti-racism front.” He was accompanied by fellow panellists: self-proclaimed anti-Zionist rapper “Lowkey”, NUS Black Students’ Officer Fopa Olaleye, and activist Dan Glass.

KCL’s Jewish and Israel Societies, and the UK’s Union of Jewish Students expressed concern about the impending event. King’s and the KCLSU have a Joint Statement on Freedom of Expression, stating: “the university’s role is to ensure that all parties feel confident and safe in expressing their views except when this speech discriminates based on race, religion…”. We believe Barghouti transgresses this. BDS is a global campaign that aims to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a prelude to its elimination. The University’s failure to recognise Barghouti as an antisemite and negligence of upholding its policies should be worrying for all students.

Barghouti openly calls for a one-state solution, “opposing a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” This denial of Jewish self-determination is considered antisemitic under the IHRA definition. This refusal to recognise any Jewish historical or religious connection to the Jewish homeland shares the goal of terrorist organisations, (Hamas, Hezbollah) – the ultimate destruction of Israel. Former KCL Israel Society President Simon Moos asked Barghouti, “When did Palestine stop belonging to the Jewish people as their nation-state?”, to which the crowd heckled and called Moos and our society “racists.” Barghouti failed to give a comprehensive answer underpinning the typical behaviour of those who base their ideology on a false narrative and a distorted and fabricated history. Moos was singled out by Lowkey, accusing him of being “sent by the Israeli Embassy”. The University later stated that “views were heard from all sides of the debate. The atmosphere was respectful” and “everyone [was] allowed to express their view in safety,” I can assert that the vast majority of the attendees exercised a singular one-sided opinion and were clearly not respectful nor willing to consider anything other than the poisonous words of the panel.

The event was hosted on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and this was used as an opportunity to discuss the atrocities of the Holocaust as part of their “anti-racist” mission. Speakers made provocative comparisons between the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering. Glass used the justification that his parents were both Holocaust survivors to permit this manipulation of history. The irony was lost on Glass, who verbally condoned antisemitism, whilst engaging with and elevating Barghouti. Other BDS leaders have previously expressed antisemitism through Holocaust inversion – the idea that Zionists are the new “Nazis” and the Palestinians, the new “Jews”. This is an inverted moral construct in which the Holocaust serves as a moral lesson for the Jewish state. Barghouti has said: “Many of the methods of collective and individual “punishment” meted out to Palestinian civilians at the hands of young, racist, often sadistic and ever impervious Israeli soldiers at the hundreds of checkpoints littering the occupied Palestinian territories are reminiscent of common Nazi practices against the Jews”. This crude political repurposing of the Holocaust, advances an anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews as perpetrators of crimes they themselves suffered and frames alleged Israeli “crimes” as equivalent to those of the Nazis – a needlessly provocative and undoubtedly inaccurate dichotomy which ignores the entirely different context and omits any wrongdoing committed by Arab forces toward Israel. 

Barghouti even implied a nefarious antisemite-Israel alliance, by misquoting former Knesset Member Anat Berko. He claimed that Berko defended Israel’s Prime Minister for hosting the Ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary by stating that “They might be antisemites, but they’re on our side.” In fact Berko was actually addressing Israel’s relationship with Poland and when describing the community stated that “A large part of the Polish community are antisemitic, but today, Poland is on on our side.” Panellists also forced artificial links between essentially unrelated causes (such as black repression and the LGBT struggle) to further fuel animosity towards Jews and Israel as belonging to the “wrong side” of these historical battles, despite the relative freedoms of minorities in Israel, and their brutal persecution in the Palestinian territories, exemplified by the execution of Mahmoud Ishtiwi in 2016.

It is horrifying that a well-respected university willingly hosted an organisation and speaker that maintains connections with terrorist groups and publicly flaunt their antisemitism. The University didn’t condemn this event, nor was there a safe space officer present which may have prevented belligerent behaviour towards Moos – perhaps this requirement is exclusive to KCL Israel Society events deemed “unsafe”, whilst KCLAP events are not? The Student Union has previously shown willingness to endorse KCLAP before (for example, the SU publicised Israel Apartheid Week in 2017 in an email that was sent to every student enrolled at KCL and supported a protest in which Palestinian terrorists were commemorated and glorified.) despite the SU’s claim of fighting injustices. It is time that both King’s and the SU fully comprehend and commit to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. 

About the Author
Esther Walker is an MA student at the IDC Herzliya, where she is a Pinsker Centre Fellow; she is studying Conflict and Diplomacy. Esther is a History BA graduate of King's College London, and is a former KCL Israel Society committee board member, she has completed fellowships at CAMERA on Campus, StandWithUs and the Tikvah Fund.
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