THE GOVERNMENT has condemned the actions of a violent mob that ran riot at a top London university during a talk by a former head of Israel’s secret service.
Police were called to King’s College London on Tuesday night as around 20 anti-Israel protesters set off fire alarms, smashed a window, hurled chairs and allegedly “assaulted” event co-host, Esther Endfield, who had arranged the talk by former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. The ugly protests forced the event, attended by around 60 people, to end early due to “fears of a fire breaking out”. College principle, Professor Ed Byrne, has ordered an investigation into the protesters’ actions.
A police spokesperson said: “Officers are investigating an allegation of assault and criminal damage at a protest. No injuries were caused or arrests made and our inquiries continue.”
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson told Jewish News: “Britain and Israel share many important academic links and speakers must be able to address meetings peacefully. Our universities should be safe spaces for students to expand their minds, and there can be no justification for violent intimidation that curtails free speech.”
Baroness Williams, Communities Minister also tweeted: ““Appalled to hear reports of violent protests at Kings College Israel Society meeting yesterday. Totally unacceptable.”
A spokesperson for King’s College said: “The safety of our students, staff and the general public is paramount to us and we are committed to acting as a responsible organisation. We have launched an urgent investigation of the events on Tuesday night to establish what happened and what action might need to be taken as a consequence. We do not, and will not, condone the use of any form of violent protest.”
The Union of Jewish Students said: “There can be no justification for these events. The Israel society was hosting an event about peace and were greeted by violence and intimidation.
Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush and Vice President Marie van der Zyl jointly condemned the actions as “violent and criminal.”
The Israeli Embassy in the UK added: “The violence at King’s College London, during an event with Ami Ayalon, is shocking and shameful. It reflects the fear that groups centred around hatred of Israel harbour toward those who promote dialogue and a peaceful solution in our region.”
King’s College London Student Union (KCLSU) told Jewish News: “We strongly support free speech- student groups should be able to host external speakers.. However, we don’t support violent action taking place, especially around our students, and we don’t support action leading to an approved event closing early.
We’ve seen reports on social media of students feeling frightened and intimidated- we take this very seriously.. We’re looking into how we move forward from this to make sure all our students are safe, and able to discuss, debate and learn in environments that are supportive and inclusive of all.”
London Student Chaplain Rabbi Gavin Broder commented: “I am deeply disturbed by the shameful scenes of intimidation, vandalism and violence at the joint Kings College and LSE Israel Society event. Universities, as we know, should seek to foster safe spaces for open debate and discussion. While disruption is sadly not unusual at such events, this evident escalation, which included destruction and physical harm, is clearly completely unacceptable.”
Yachad, who brought Ami Ayalon to the UK for a series’ of talks, said: “These 20 something protesters were incredibly small in number, yet managed to ruin what was a very interesting and well attended event. We condemn their actions in the strongest possible terms – attempting to shut down debate and dialogue runs contrary to the values of Yachad.
What we must not forget is that we had a room filled with people from across the political spectrum, who came to hear from the former Head of the Shin Bet, and a huge queue of people outside who were disappointed that they couldn’t join them.”
King’s College Action Palestine issued a statement before the event, in which they claim “Ayalon’s position makes him no different from the more overtly racist Zionists in the current Likud government”.
They also claimed it is ‘unacceptable’ “to collaborate with any person, organization and institution complicit in war crimes or human rights violations”, or ” to give voice, under the guise of a failed peace process, to an alleged war criminal.”
“Having war criminals to speak at the expense of Palestinian voices and that try to whitewash apartheid is not academic freedom. It is complicity with systematic oppression.”