A top London university is to investigate after pro-Palestinian activists violently disrupted an event with an Israeli speaker.
Police were called to University College London on Thursday amid claims of common assault and verbal intimidation by pro-Palestinian protestors at an event with an Israeli speaker.
UCL students described the terrifying scene which caused some, including event organiser and Friends of Israel Society co-president Liora Cadranel, to flee in tears. Another student, Devora Khafi, suffered a panic attack following an alleged assault by a pro-Palestinian activist.
Attendees were forced to lock themselves into a room to protect themselves against a 100-strong rabble gathered outside, demonstrating against the arrival of Israeli peace activist Hen Mazzig.
In response, UCL and it’s union (UCLU), said they do not “condone acts of intimidation or violence under any circumstances”.
They “regret protesters took measures to try to prevent the event from happening but stress that the protest was non-violent.”
“We are aware that the Metropolitan police attended following accusations of assault and support them fully in their investigations. As this was a public event, it is unclear how many UCL students were present but we are instigating an enquiry and we will take appropriate disciplinary action where there is clear evidence that students may have breached our disciplinary regulations.”
Their statement came after the Board of Deputies presented four demands to the university’s provost including issuing a clear rejection of last night’s events and the launch of a “credible rigorous enquiry”. Board president Jonathan Arkush also demanded that the provost meet him, UJS and UCL student leaders.
Arkush noted that “the university, albeit a little belatedly, had reacted positively to these necessary steps”. Arkush had earlier spoken to the vice-provost whose initial response he described as “unsatisfactory. He appeared to be playing down events”.
Arkush also said the incident appeared to be part of efforts by the Palestinian lobby to prevent talks by Israelis on campus. “We are determined these efforts will not succeed.”
Mazzig, who spoke to the Jewish News exclusively after the event, was due to address students about his work as a humanitarian affairs officer in the COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) unit in the West Bank.
Liora said: “I thought Hen Mazzig would be a brilliant speaker to engage with students on all sides of the political spectrum. His lack of bias makes him ideal to speak on a controversial issue.”
However, footage quickly emerged on social media of angry chanting and drumming by a large mob outside. Calls of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Shame” intimidated a number of students.
— Elliot Miller (@Elliotmiller94) October 27, 2016
The event was initially cancelled and was only reinstated yesterday after organisers and security staff changed the location of the event twice. This culminated with the Haldane Room in the Wilkins Building being the final venue.
UCL security personnel working in conjunction with CST representatives attempted to keep the peace once protestors descended on the Haldane Room.
Nonetheless, three activists managed to break into the venue by forcing a window open. They lay down in protest and were eventually removed by security personnel.
Four police cars then arrived and bystanders estimated there were over 20 police officers present on the scene by 8pm.
Despite the protests Mazzig spoke for 20 minutes to approximately 25 students.
Liora told Jewish News: “There was lots of screaming and banging on the doors. We all felt scared and struggled to concentrate on the talk. It was manic.”
“Despite the banging outside, Hen continued to speak about peace. It was actually really lovely as we were united and sang Hatikvah despite the noise outside.”
However, she alleges a common assault took place with an unknown man pushing her against a door. This prompted police to escort the individual away.
Another attendee, Devora Khafi, who is StandWithUs UK Campus Director, has also filed an allegation of common assault to the police after similarly claiming a girl pushed her against a door. Camden police are currently investigating the incident.
— Elliot Miller (@Elliotmiller94) October 27, 2016
After the event she adamantly tweeted: “I was assaulted. We were attacked. But freedom will prevail. @HenMazzig did a great job sharing his story amidst a whirlwind of hate.”
Mazzig, a former Israel Education Director at StandWithUs, said: “I am surprised I was targeted given my message of peace and coexistence. It was really hard to speak above the noise.”
“After the talk I was ushered away by police and told to run as fast as I could. I was more scared than during my IDF service.”
He later tweeted: “The campus was the war zone and the streets are the safe place. I’m out. My god.”
In January, students at King’s College faced assault charges after violently disrupting a talk with Israeli speaker Ami Ayalon.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police told the Jewish News: “Police were called at 19:00 hours on 27 October to a venue at University College London.”
“Officers spoke to security at the university who were happy to let the demonstration go ahead on its grounds. They provided a policing presence during the demonstration.”
The Union of Jewish Students issued a statement following the incident at UCL, in which they said “there can be no excuses” for what happened.
“The fact that such violence and hostility took place only nine months after the incident at KCL, with police having to once again be called, is an absolute disgrace. UCL Friends of Israel were simply trying to engage students in discussion on Israel, but instead were met with a wall of intolerance and intimidation aimed at shutting down free speech.”
They added that it is “reassuring however that, despite the acts of the protestors, the event went ahead as planned with no students harmed.”
“It is imperative that UCL and UCLU (UCL’s Union) take action following last night’s events and we will be working with UCL Friends of Israel to ensure just that.”
Liron Velleman, UJs Campaigns Officer, was there and told the Jewish News about the incident: “I was disgusted to witness the level of aggression and intimidation targeted at mainly Jewish students who wished to engage in a constructive conversation about Israel and Palestine.”
UCL Friends of Israel Society must be commended on their work to ensure that the event was informative for the 50 people in the room. However, the fact that a significant police presence was required to keep students safe on campus is completely unacceptable and steps must be taken to ensure that this level of intimidation aimed at Jewish students must never happen again.’