At 7.30pm last Thursday, I was inside the classroom together with about 25 people, mostly Jewish students. Four students suddenly broke into the room, jumping through a window.
The noise from outside was incessant: “Intifada, intifada!” I was almost killed when I was 12, during the Second Intifada – and traumatic memories flood back. “Where is Hen? Where is Hen? War criminal! Murderer! Shame!”
Although it sounds like a scene from a horror movie, this was just a simple event arranged by Jewish students with CAMERA – a group on campus committed to combating libels about the Jewish state at university campuses across the world. England was my last stop on an international speaking tour – and while my events in north America were a huge success, I knew London would be different.
Finally, at 7.45pm, I began my talk. The activists were furious – and chanted even louder. “Intifada, Intifada, Intifada!” Rap music was being played on a booming sound system. The police were outside, haplessly impotent. They were simply watching on the sidelines.
I was determined to continue, to not let them stop me from speaking. I told my story: about my Mizrahi heritage; how my family was expelled from the Middle East; my humanitarian work in COGAT; surviving a suicide bomb as a child. I struggled to speak above the noise of the protesters – but more than ever, of the thousands of talks I’ve given across the world, I poured out my soul.
I finished my talk – and reassured the crowd I would be glad to return. I will not be silenced- and they should not be silenced. “We won tonight,” I assured them. I asked everyone to stand tall. We all stood up and started singing Hatikvah.
I was soon rushed out of the campus, in a police coat by the police. They kept telling me: “Don’t look back, keep running.” It was as if
I were escaping a war zone.
That night has strengthened my resolve more than ever. The hateful mob reaffirmed my conviction that anti-Semitism remains alive – in Europe, North America and beyond. In 21st century Britain, Jews leaving a room to screams of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” is utterly horrifying.
I couldn’t sleep all night. I kept on thinking: how do we fight such hate speech? We fight bigotry and fanaticism by standing tall – but never being afraid. They must see that we are unbreakable.