Aurele Aaron Tobelem

King’s College London Delays in Condemning Hamas

Protest organised by KCL Students for Justice for Palestine, November 2023 (Aurele Tobelem)
Protest organised by KCL Students for Justice for Palestine, November 2023 (Aurele Tobelem)

The ongoing geo-political events of the 7th October 2023 which transpired in Israel and Gaza have provoked an international reaction of shock, anger, and panic. The infiltration of Hamas forces from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and the ensuing war between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and various jihadist groups in the region have so far left 1,300 Israelis dead, 3,300 wounded, and 500,000 displaced. The majority of these casualties are Israeli civilians – Jews and Arabs – who were massacred in their homes by Hamas. Children and elderly residents were not spared. Hamas has also kidnapped over 200 civilians, alongside reports of its operatives raping Israeli women.

There is only one word to describe those who have committed such savage and barbaric acts: terrorists. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak evidently agrees with such a label, as made clear in a speech given to Finchley United Synagogue on the 9th October in which he pledged to “stand with Israel against this terrorism today, tomorrow and always.” Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer has also urged the international community to “call this out for what it is in utterly condemning these actions from Hamas.”

Amid widespread condemnation, one institution in particular remained silent for more than a week: King’s College London. As one of the most revered and long-established academic institutions in the world, one might expect the university to have immediately issued a condemnation of Hamas attacks designed to provoke chaos and warfare.

However, such a condemnation was only issued on Wednesday 18th October, eleven days after the horrific terrorist invasion first received international media attention. This comes in spite of societies endorsed by the Student Union – KCL Students for Justice for Palestine and Liberate KCL in particular – actively working to reformulate Hamas terrorism as a form of legitimate resistance. This is a deeply inhuman philosophy, and it constitutes a violation of the Terrorism Act 2006.

That’s right. Terrorist sympathisers are currently attending lectures, participating in seminars, and organising events within a supposed academic bastion of liberal democracy. One could peer through the pages of dictionaries in every language ever invented by mankind, but they would invariably fail to find a word which accurately captures the insanity of this scenario.

As the President of the KCL Israel Society, the past few weeks have proved a veritable whirlwind of meetings, email correspondence, and one thing in particular: frustration. Frustration at the nonchalance of the Student Union in the face of Hamas supporters, frustration at the lack of support for Jewish and Israeli students who are now afraid to come to university, and frustration at the way in which pro-Palestinian voices on campus have seized control of the narrative on the Israel-Gaza issue.

On Monday 9th October, a “message of support” was circulated to Israeli students on behalf of the Dean of KCL, offering student services for those currently distressed by “events in the Middle East.” However, the message did not articulate the cause and nature of these events, and not once was Hamas mentioned.

On Wednesday 11th October, Senior Vice President Rachel Mills and Dean of KCL Revd. Dr Ellen Clark-King issued a formal statement which reiterated the earlier message of support. The statement emphasised their reaction of “shock and sadness” to the “devastating impact on human life” wrought by the escalation of the conflict. Yet, again, they refused to acknowledge the reasons why they were forced to send such a message in the first place.

In correspondence with the Dean of KCL and with the Head of Governance at the KCLSU, I have given them many opportunities to voice opposition to acts of terrorism both abroad and on campus. It took eleven days until the administration capitalised upon the opportunity to place themselves on the right side of moral history. Eleven days until they finally condemned the brutality of a radical Islamist group which seeks to commit genocide against Jews and export oppression to the rest of the world.

Even the most recent statement of the 18th October, released by Vice-Chancellor and President Shitij Kapur, fell short of the mark. Students were at last reminded that support for Hamas was in breach of UK law and would be “treated with the utmost seriousness.” However, the message expressed condemnation of “appalling attacks by Hamas” as well as the “ongoing humanitarian crisis in both Israel and Gaza” in the same sentence. Such false equivalences demonstrate a deeply flawed understanding of the moral component within the ongoing war.

In a recent episode (#338) of his Making Sense Podcast, critically-acclaimed American philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris outlines the following:

As this war proceeds, many people will consider the deaths of non-combatants on the Palestinian side to be morally equivalent to the kids who were tortured and murdered at the peace concert by Hamas, or to the hostages who may yet be murdered, and their murders broadcast on social media. But they’re not. There is a difference between collateral damage – which is of course a euphemism for innocent people killed in war – and the intentional massacre of civilians for the purpose of maximising horror.

It seems that the kidnapping of the elderly, the burning alive of civilians in their homes, and the decapitation of children are acts which the university believes merit a nuanced and balanced approach. Condemnations characterised by bothsidesism are not actually condemnations: they are mere platitudes.

The Student Union has proved even more miserably inefficient in my various dealings with them. In fact, during a Friday 13th October meeting between myself and the KCLSU, the Head of Governance interrupted the meeting to take a phone call as I was explaining the threat of terrorist ideology on campus. After the 30-minute ordeal in which my concerns were dismissed multiple times as personal beliefs rather than fact, I was redirected to an online complaints form – completely defeating the point of the meeting. Since then, it has taken the Student Union an entire month to begin preliminary investigations into the incidents I reported to them. The blatant disregard for Israeli and Jewish students on campus is not only an administrative failure, but a moral one.

King’s College London has a duty to protect all of its students. Sadly, Jewish and Israeli students were forced to watch as the university half-heartedly spoke out only after Hamas terrorists had finished abducting, assaulting, and assassinating their friends and family members. In the everlasting words of Jewish comedian David Baddiel: Jews don’t count.

About the Author
Aurele Tobelem is a first-year History student at King's College London. A Sephardi Jew of French-Moroccan origin, he is predominantly concerned with exploring and documenting Jewish relations in the Middle East and North Africa. He is the President of KCL Israel and a Youth Advocate for Harif UK. Aurele is open to working with other organizations to have fruitful discussions about Israel and the future.
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