Pro-Palestine activists in Northern Ireland have rejected accusations of "threatening" behaviour during protests against Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev at an event in Belfast earlier this month. According to a local newspaper, staff at Linen Hall Library received a number of threatening phone calls and online attacks on social media after hosting an event marking the centenary of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog, who was born in Belfast.
The 13 March event, organised by Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, sparked protests after it was discovered that Regev was amongst the invited guests. An online petition was signed by hundreds of people demanding to have "no more war criminals or apologists for genocide" in the library.
Regev, explained human rights activists, "has a long history of excusing, apologising and justifying [Israel's] murder, torture and genocide as well as land theft from the indigenous population of Palestine." They accused the library — which appears only to have disclosed Regev's attendance after the event, fearing public outrage — of going "against everything the Linen Hall has stood for" and demanded an investigation into how the Israeli Ambassador was allowed to address the community in Belfast in such an "underhanded" way.
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The Belfast Telegraph reported that the Board of Deputies of British Jews described the alleged attacks as "vile" and "totally unacceptable." The newspaper report, however, provided no details of the nature of the "threats".
Protestors contacted by MEMO denounced the accusation as "absolute nonsense and malicious lies." Newry and Mournes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group insisted that, "This is just the usual Zionist propaganda."
The organisation explained that the issue was not about the exhibition itself, as it is a historical fact that Herzog came from Belfast. "The issue was the presence of the Israeli ambassador, a man who has repeatedly justified and excused genocide and murder."
Daisy Mules is a retired teacher and an activist in the Derry Trades Union Council. She said that people were not too concerned over the Linen Hall exhibition but were outraged once they found out that Regev was taking part. She went to the Linen Hall Facebook page along with other activists to express their anger. She showed MEMO one of the "threatening" messages posted on the social media site which were subsequently deleted by staff at the library.
"Shame on the Linen Hall Library for inviting Mark Regev to this event," protested Mules. "Mark Regev is a promoter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and supporter of apartheid. He regularly justifies the ongoing oppression of Palestinians and the imprisonment of children, who undergo detention and trial in military courts. I am horrified [that] he was invited to the Linen Hall Library."
In an email seen by MEMO and sent to the library director, Julie Andrews, Mules requested an explanation for why her complaint had been deleted and why the library had only decided to publicise Regev's participation after the event. She went on to accuse the library of silencing debate and discussion about the ambassador's alleged complicity in war crimes while reminding the official that the "resources [of the library] are owned by the community for the community."
In her reply, also seen by MEMO, Andrews distanced herself from the event: "Linen Hall Library is a wholly neutral, non-partisan charitable organisation" that "welcome[s] people of all cultures, nationalities, political affiliations and persuasions, and religions." However, she failed to explain why Australian-born Regev's attendance was only announced after the event.
Another protestor, Anne O'Neill, also told MEMO that people were "disgusted" at Regev's participation and went on to the library's Facebook page to express their outrage. O'Neill said that she did not see any threats or anti-Semitic slurs on the page before accusing Linen Hall of "shutting down free speech." She confirmed that a number of protestors had been blocked by the site.
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Newry and Mournes BDS group also denied that library staff were threatened by anyone connected to the protests. In fact, it pointed out that efforts were made last week to try to arrange a meeting between the various human rights groups and the Linen Hall Library. The group further stated that the library had distanced itself from the event by admitting that it was not one of their own, but was organised by Northern Ireland Friends of Israel.
MEMO wrote to Linen Hall and asked to see evidence of the "threatening" behaviour which had attracted condemnation from the Board of Deputies, and asked if the threats had been reported to the police. While no evidence of threatening behaviour was shown to MEMO, the response from Linen Hall Library repeated the comments by the Board of Deputies of British Jews denouncing the activists.