Stephen Hoffman is the Campaign Executive for We Believe in Israel but is speaking here in a personal capacity.
For those who believe in an educated debate about Israel on universities, including the right for people to hear freely Israeli speakers free from initimidation, last week was incredibly depressing.
It started at Exeter University and culminated in disgraceful and intimidating scenes at UCL on Thursday.
On Thursday Yaron Brook, the Director of the Ayn Rand Institute was due to speak to Exeter University Libertarian. Ironically given what was to happen, part of his speech touched on free speech.
Now, there are many things people can fairly disagree with Yaron on. He has radical views on economics and foreign policy, as is befitting of the Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute. His talk at Exeter University gave people the chance to challenge his views through the forum of debate.
Sadly, this wasn’t what anti-Israel protesters were looking to do. You see, Yaron Brook was born in Israel and for those who believe everything to do with Israel should be boycotted, including Israeli people, and shudder at the thought of normalisation of relations with Israeli; him being Israeli is a crime.
Entering the lecture theatre at the event that took place on Monday they tried to stop him from speaking shouting “free free Palestine”. In doing so they were not only undermining free speech, but showing a total lack of respect to students who came along to hear him.
I’d love to say things got better when Israeli activist, Hen Mazzig came to speak at UCL courtesy of UCL Israel Society and Camera on Campus, but scenes on Thursday night became even uglier.
People who attended this pro-Israel event were trapped inside the university room where Hen Mazzig was speaking, after anti-Israel protesters stormed the event. The protesters called themselves a Friends of Palestine Society, but let’s call them by the name they should be called: anti-Israel protesters. After all, it does nothing for the Palestinian cause to not give the chance for Palestinians to hear Israeli voices thanks to free speech, or enter into dialogue and rigorous debates with Israelis.
Lest you think the ideas of the anti-Israel protesters were peaceful, the fact they loudly chanted to try and stop Hen Mazzig’s speech “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free”, shows they didn’t have the idea of a peaceful two state solution with a state of Israel side by side with a state of Palestine on their mind. That’s because from the river to the sea doesn’t just cover the West Bank, but the entirety of Israel, including Tel Aviv, Netanya and Haifa.
The scenes became so intimidating and aggressive that the police had to be called in to escort the pro-Israeli students from the university building.
It is clear to me that sadly right now the impression being given is that if you are an Israeli speaker on campus you have no right to free speech and people have no right to here and debate. What a sad state of affairs when you consider that universities are meant to be the fulcrum of debate.
As liberty minded people whether we are Conservatives, Socialists, Libertarians or Anarchists, we all need to come together to ensure that Israeli speakers remain welcome on campus before it becomes too late. Free speech on campus depends on it.
Stephen Hoffman is the Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Conservatives for Liberty. He tweets at @thehoff102
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty
Photo taken by Gage Skidmore under Creative Commons Licence