There was nothing surprising or unusual about the hysterical, vitriolic and threatening behaviour of the anti-Israel mob towards the Israeli ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, following her talk at LSE earlier this week. I worked for the Israeli embassy for several years, starting in 2008, and these scenes are sadly the norm every time any Israeli politician or official, of any political stripe, speaks on a British university campus.
I saw it when Shimon Peres spoke at Oxford in 2008 with a rowdy protest outside the venue and frequent heckling within it. I saw it every time my old boss Ron Prosor or his successor Daniel Taub visited a British campus. In 2015 at a talk at LSE by then Labor leader now President, Isaac Herzog, I recall protesters attempting to storm the room.
In 2011, Ishmael Khaldi, a Bedouin Arab Israeli diplomat who has worked tirelessly for Bedouin communities had his talk at Edinburgh University shut down by protesters who ripped the mic from the lectern and called him a “Nazi.”
In 2016, Jewish students attending a talk at UCL by the gay Mizrachi Israeli writer and activist Hen Mazzig were barricaded in by protesters and needed police protection.
Every talk at a British university given by an Israeli official, politician or even individual (unless they pass some sort of test to disown their country) takes place against a backing track provided by megaphone automatons outside the building. That was the case for a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a Bedouin Arab and an LGBT Mizrachi writer and every other Israeli from across the spectrum.
So when people attempt to explain the nature of the protests as a response to Tzipi Hotovely’s politics, it just doesn’t ring true. There is no doubt that the current ambassador is a right-winger whose stated views are objectionable to many, even within the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, though it should be noted that she is serving here as a diplomat representing the State of Israel, not as a politician serving her own political agenda, and that the government that controversially appointed her is no longer in charge.
But the idea that this is in any way relevant to events at the LSE is utter nonsense. The protesters who threatened her behave in the same way every time an Israeli speaks on a British campus, whether hawkish or dovish.
The anti-Israel hate crowd don’t draw those distinctions. For them, Israel is evil, any Israeli who doesn’t want Israel destroyed is evil too, as are the Jewish students who attend their talks to hear what they have to say.
Jews who lend credibility to the idea that the protests were driven by objections to Hotovely’s record as a politician are either dishonest or extremely credulous. “No hechsher for Hotovely” proclaim Na’amod, for instance. They should, however, be less willing to provide a hechsher for a protest at which flags of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi sectarian militia backed by Iran were flown. It should be possible to protest Hotovely’s views without ignoring or minimising the affiliations of fellow protesters, unless your aspiration is to become a progressive version of Neturei Karta, without the beards and shtreimels.
But the campus culture of anti-Israel hatred long predates the appointment of this particular ambassador and has been normalised at British universities for years. No one should pretend to be surprised when the outcome of that political culture is militant antisemitism, or the tolerance of it, among left activists of the sort that blighted Labour under Corbyn.
David Krikler is writing in a personal capacity