London students say no to Israeli war crimes apologist

London students say no to Israeli war crimes apologist
Hundreds of students and activists gathered at London's School of Oriental and African Studies to oppose a visit by Israel's UK ambassador Mark Regev.
3 min read
28 April, 2017
Pro-Palestine students and activists gathered at SOAS on Thursday [YouTube]
Israel's UK ambassador Mark Regev was greeted by hundreds of protesters on Thursday as he visited the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London to deliver a speech.

The former spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was invited to give a lecture by SOAS's Jewish and United Nations societies, but the visit was highly opposed by pro-Palestine demonstrators.

Students at the university, who overwhelmingly backed the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in a student referendum in 2015, called for the event to be cancelled.

"We are protesting because they [the university] didn't respect the BDS vote in 2015, in which more than 70 percent of the students voted in favour of BDS," said Feyrouz, a SOAS student and organiser of the 'Apartheid off Campus' protest that took place.

"We wanted to show that the SOAS community is for justice for Palestine and freedom for Palestine".

While majority of protesters on Thursday were opposed to Regev's visit, a group pro-Israeli activists were also present.

Some of the students and activists reported being provoked by the pro-Israeli campaigners who came in support of Regev's talk.

Deborah Fink, a co-founder of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, was confronted by a pro-Israeli activist who insisted on filming her and her friends' faces without their permission.

"All I've noticed is a few pro-Israel people trying to provoke the demonstrators, and they always do that," she told The New Arab.

"They don't listen and they come up with the same hackneyed propaganda lines... when you pierce holes in their argument, they either talk over you or walk off."

We wanted to show that the SOAS community is for justice for Palestine and freedom for Palestine

In the days leading up to Thursday's event, over 40 student societies and 100 SOAS academics signed an open letter condemning the university's decision to give Regev a platform.

SOAS' student union also voiced its opposition, saying that it felt the event would in fact act as an obstacle to students engaging freely in debate about Israel's anti-BDS laws.

The event went ahead despite student concerns, however the United Nations Society, which had initially agreed to co-host the event, suddenly pulled its support for the talk on Wednesday evening.

In what was perhaps an attempt to dissuade protesters from attending, SOAS's Jewish Society warned that armed police would be attending the event.

Nonetheless, the protest proceeded without incident, with students dancing to traditional Palestinian music, waving flags and chanting slogans in support of the nation's struggle.

Inside the university, Regev said the protesters were "supporting an uncompromising, maximalist stance" and questioned whether their actions would help further the Palestinian cause.

He also questioned why no protester had opposed talks given by "extremist speakers" at SOAS in the past and said the "indignation toward Israel is very selective".

With his visit on Thursday, Regev became the first Israeli diplomatic official to visit SOAS since 2015, following the campus' decision to support BDS.

The BDS movement calls for a global boycott of Israel, among other demands, until the country withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism. The state recently passed a law banning BDS supporters from entering Israel.