Students at King's College London (KCL) protested an Israeli army veteran's presence on campus this week, conducing a peaceful, silent walk out towards the end of his talk.
Hen Mazzig was hosted on Monday by KCL's Israel Society, in association with right-wing Israel lobby group StandWithUs, an organisation Mazzig now works for as Director of Education.
According to KCL Action Palestine activists, prior to the event the student union "received a number of complaints from students for not duly processing this controversial speaker, in line with [the union's] policy." They noted that "the distress someone of this calibre can cause to students, especially Palestinians, is a strong reason for considering barring him from speaking."
Mazzig served in the IDF as part of COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories). Referred to by Mazzig as "the humanitarian unit of the Israeli army", COGAT is a key part of Israel's regime of control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mazzig also served as a reservist in 'Operation Protective Edge', Israel's assault on Gaza that killed hundreds of children and wounded thousands.
According to activists, they decided to conduct a "silent disruption" of the event to "raise awareness of the crimes Hen tried to whitewash." Some 50 students listened to Mazzig talk for 20 minutes, before standing up with "flags, kufifyehs and the names of families of those murdered in the summer [by the Israeli army]."
The students were "escorted out of the room by the safe space policy monitors as the speakers shouted us to stay and engage", the departure leaving the room half empty. A video of the protest can be viewed here. Students opposed to Israeli war crimes and occupation policies have often staged peacefulwalkouts in protest at the presence of former or current soldiers.
Mazzig and the pro-Israel students have since sought to misrepresent this show of principled opposition to Israeli crimes. The strongest allegation came from KCL Israel Society president Sami Steinbock, who claimed that a member of staff present in his capacity as a 'Safe Space Officer', stood at the door "denying access to Jewish people but allowing in people who were clearly anti-Israeli."
This inflammatory accusation of a "racist door policy" was dismissed by KCLSU in a statement I received late Thursday. KCLSU confirmed they had received emails from concerned students prior to the event, and thus "additional security and Safe Space measures were put in place." KCLSU kept the Israel Society informed, and "worked with them in the lead up to the event."
As for Steinbock's claims about denial of entry, the statement clarifies that "the event was advertised for both KCLSU and other students, but not the general public." The "door policy" duly "reflected this", and "was on a first come first served basis." As "the room reached capacity the decision was made to prioritise students from King's College London."
Ironically, pro-Israel students only recently made an unsuccessful attempt to use 'Safe Space' policy in an attempt to mute criticism of Israel's brutal attack on Gaza. Over the summer, sabbatical officers of the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) issued a short statement that read:
We are horrified and completely condemn the Israeli Government's military assault currently taking place on Gaza that has led to the killing of over 1300 Palestinians, with the majority being civilians.
This was too much for some. Last month, a motion was put forward to Student Council that would have obliged the EUSA Sabbatical Officers to withdraw their statement. The motion went to the vote, and was defeated 165 to 70, leaving the statement on the record.
The 'motion argued the officers acted outside of their mandate, and, that for "Israeli and Jewish students", this condemnation of the killing of civilians made them feel "unsafe on campus." How exactly was not specified – though one student complained of being "treated with disdain."
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) condemned the rejection of the motion on the basis that it disregarded the "impressions" of discomfort by Israel's supporters on campus in the name of "showing solidarity" with the Palestinians.
Those instructive remarks about UJS' priorities are happily contrasted with those students who, like at KCL, have once again shown that "they do not tolerate apartheid apologists nor speakers trying to whitewash the crimes of a brutal occupation."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.