A screaming crowd of about 60 students barracked an Israel Society meeting held at Kings College London’s campus, resulting in the police being called to ensure the safety of the audience and the speaker, the former Israeli deputy prime minister, Dan Meridor.
The meeting was jointly held by Kings Israel Society, City University Israel Society, and a new campus organisation, the Pinsker Centre, a UK based organisation whose mission, it says, “is to preserve freedom of speech on British university campuses and allow a non-hostile platform for discussion on Israel”.
But this ambition largely failed as a hostile crowd gathered outside the Great Hall in which Mr Meridor addressed his audience, in a speech moderated by Bar-Ilan Professor Menachem Klein, currently a visiting professor at Kings.
Students bearing red and green daubed posters, with the words “War Criminal” roughly scribbled on them, began screaming at anyone who was making their way into the hall to hear Mr Meridor.
Some of the protesters complained about having their photographs taken, although a number of them were eagerly photographing members of the audience who emerged from the event later in the evening.
Kings College security men, who patrolled inside the hall throughout, would only allow those who had previously registered into the event, in order to avoid disruption; but chanting and screaming from outside continued throughout Mr Meridor’s address and the question and answer session which followed, making it at times impossible to hear the speaker.
Mr Meridor himself was sanguine about the protests. He told the JN before the meeting that he believed in dialogue and hoped that it might be possible for those who were critical of Israel to come inside and have “a civilised discussion.”
But that did not prove possible and after the meeting concluded, Kings Israel Society president Tamara Behrens announced that the police had been called and that anyone who did not feel comfortable running the gauntlet of the protesters should wait inside the hall until the police arrived.
In the end most of the audience chose to walk through the screaming, baying crowd. One Kings student who had nothing to do with either side was thoroughly fed up. He told the JN: “All they [the protesters] want to do is yell and intimidate, and I can’t stand it.”
Professor Klein made it clear that he and Mr Meridor came from opposite sides of the political fence, and yet he introduced his guest as “a disappearing type of Israeli politician”, joking that Mr Meridor had never yet been the subject of an investigation by the Israeli police.
In a wide-ranging analysis of the situation in the Middle East, Mr Meridor may have surprised some of his audience as he appeared to regret the “nationalist” line taken by the current Israeli government at the expense of the “liberal” approach which he said was “part of the DNA of the Likud party”.
Making a strong case for the pursuit of the two-state solution, Mr Meridor deplored a situation in which “religion adds rigidity” when people came to vote. And he admitted, speaking of relations with America, that he did not “feel at home” with the evangelist movement which has expressed support for Israel.
In what might be a veiled message to his former government colleagues, Mr Meridor concluded: “Liberal values are under attack all over the world. But our test as Israelis is how we treat minorities.”
A UJS Spokesperson said they are “deeply disappointed that those wishing to attend a talk by KCL Israel Society were intimidated and harassed.”
They add: that “chants of ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free’, calling for the destruction of Israel, were heard at the protest last night. UJS has consistently argued that this open demand for Israel’s destruction must have no place on any campus.”
President of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, condemned the incident saying: “While the Board of Deputies supports the right to demonstrate peacefully, we were appalled at the scenes last night at King’s College London where those attending a talk by Dan Meridor were barracked and intimidated in a completely unacceptable way. Clearly, there are deficiencies in King’s College’s event management which allowed these scenes to take place. We will be contacting the Principal to discuss last night’s events and to gain assurances that there will be no repeat.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder commented: “It is appalling and concerning that at an academic institution of such high esteem as King’s College, which thrives on political diversity, student protesters would stoop so low as to threaten their fellow students and a former state official.”
He added: “These students have shown a complete disregard for academic freedom and expression, and are sending a dangerous message that hostility and force are legitimate methods of protest. The World Jewish Congress supports the right to peaceful demonstrations, but it is never acceptable to engender fear in the name of political activism.”
You can watch a video from the event taken by the Pinsker Centre, here: