Hundreds of people gathered at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London yesterday to protest against a student society hosting Israel's ambassador to the UK.
The former spokesman of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, was invited to give a lecture by the SOAS Jewish and United Nations societies however the UN society pulled out from co-hosting though it failed to explain why it had done so.
The movement #AparthiedOffCampus was mobilised once news had spread of Regev's impending visit through social media were SOAS students and the public were invited to make their voices heard against the visit.
— Mark Regev (@AmbMarkRegev) April 24, 2017
More than 40 student societies and 100 SOAS academics had earlier signed an open letter opposing the platform given to the Israeli ambassador to speak at the university.
Activists filled the university's courtyard with banners write the statement "apartheid off campus". As well as pro-Palestinian protesters, the demonstration was attended by over 50 pro-Israeli protesters.
One pro-Palestinian activist told MEMO:
The Israeli government is panicking about the success of the boycott campaign and they have sent Mark Regev to this country… to make certain that the British government support the Israelis. We are in total support of what is happening here [the protest against Regev's visit].
Regev reportedly condemned the protest to his visit but questioning why "extremist speakers were invited to SOAS over the years, with no protest" and called out the "selective" indignation towards Israel.
By supporting an uncompromising, maximalist stance, are the protesters outside serving the Palestinian cause?
Regev's visit to SOAS is the first of any Israeli diplomats since 2005 after the university's Student Union became the first in the UK to officially support the BDS campaign on campus.
— Mark Regev (@AmbMarkRegev) April 27, 2017
Fairouz, a Moroccan SOAS student, told MEMO Regev should not be allowed a platform owing to his previous record as spokesmen where he "justified" the bombings in Gaza.
"We as a SOAS community decided to come to celebrate the resistance and the struggles of Palestine. We have over 40 SOAS societies who have organised this event. It's showing how the student Palestinian movement in the UK is very strong and is protesting and talking about the justice for Palestinians and their freedoms."
A statement by the SOAS Jewish Society warned protesters that armed police would be present on campus while Regev was speaking.
A Swab team and armed personnel were reportedly seen securing the area of the Senate House building where Regev was speaking.
Many of those who attended the protest, including Palestinian students, were afraid to speak to the media fearing their words will be used as evidence of attending a protest that would be seen as reason to prevent them from entering the Palestinian territories due to Israel's "anti-boycott" law.
The law was approved by Israel's parliament in February this year and it prohibits individuals who advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement from entering Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories.
The SOAS SU said in a statement:
Not only is this [anti-boycott] law a blatant breach of free speech, it also puts students and staff members – especially Palestinian students and staff members – in an extremely precarious situation.
The SOAS Student Union condemned the university for agreeing to host the event and questioned the safety of Israeli and Palestinian students who wish to "engage freely" in a debate with Regev about Israel's anti-boycott law.
The levels of security surrounding the event and the lack of access to Regev's lecture meant any intention of "open discussion" would have been impossible and were viewed as disingenuous by the vast majority.