‘We were being hunted’: A Jewish QMUL student recounts the UCL protest
‘Jewish student concerns are not taken seriously’
Last week Jewish students attended an event to discuss a means of peaceful resolution in regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict. On 27th October, Hen Mazzig, a former intermediary to the Israel Defence Forces, The Palestinian Authority and the United Nations, was the key speaker at University College London (UCL). Known as the “miracle man” for galvanising both Palestinians and Jews, Hen brought about a dialogue of peace emphasising a desire for both Israelis and Palestinians to enjoy self-determination.
Although the event was held to promote peace and resolution, University College London’s Students’ Union no-platformed the event, however, in turn, this was overruled by UCL’s management.
While the event was set to go ahead, it had to be relocated last minute as protesters swarmed the original location. The protesters interrupted the lecture with anti-Israeli chants, consequently forcing Jewish students to sneak off in small groups to the new location, as to not attract detection from protesters. Devora Khafi, an International Relations student at Queen Mary University London and a member of the Jewish Society, who was at the event described Jewish students feeling “sick to their stomachs” and “horrified” about the ongoing situation.
Devora said: “It was absolutely terrifying, the worst event I have ever attended.
“Jewish students were forced to sneak into an event, while protesters were essentially hunting anyone supposedly Jewish or linked to the event in any way.
“We were subsequently barricaded into the room designated for the event while two men broke in with the motive to disrupt Hen during his speech.
“Protesters would bang on the windows and slam the doors making it impossible for the event to run smoothly.
“The campus security who were meant to protect us allowed the demonstration to move far too close to the event, hence Hen’s speech to be disrupted.”
In a statement made after the protest, UCL commented: “On 27 October, we did all we could to ensure that the UCLU Friends of Israel Society event could go ahead at UCL, working with our Security team and the Metropolitan police.
“It was widely advertised and open to the public, and as a result a small but noisy group of protesters attended and occupied the rooms where the event was originally meant to take place.
“UCL Security found an alternative location and ensured the event went ahead safely. We regret protesters took measures to try to prevent the event from happening but stress that the protest was non-violent.”
Devora continued: “Another girl and I were assaulted, I can remember being grappled against the door, hardly able to breathe while protesters snarled and cheered.”
“Protesters loudly chanted ‘from the river to the sea Palestine will be free’ which is a chant that implicitly calls for the destruction of Israel and the exile of Jews.”
Within a short period, the hostility escalated and the police were called as there were fears that the Jewish students would no longer be safe.
Devora commented: “We were told not to engage protesters and to avoid eye contact with the protesters, who indifferent to the new-found police presence screamed anti-Semitic abuse in our faces, and persisted in pushing and shoving us while filming us as we struggled out onto the street.
“Protesters would raise their fists and force cameras into our faces, yelling ‘shame’ trying their very best to provoke a reaction from us.”
Hen Mazzig himself was ordered by police to disguise himself as security staff, saying: “They had fear that I’ll be violently attacked by the anti-Israel ‘peace loving non-violent’ fanatic mob.”
I had to be rushed out of the event at @UCL with security. The campus was the war zone and the streets are the safe place. I'm out. My god.
— Hen Mazzig (@HenMazzig) October 27, 2016
UCL’s Palestine Society released the following statement claiming that they were not behind the protest at UCL: “Last night, a large and diverse group of students staged a protest against Hen Mazzig, a reservist lieutenant in the Israeli army.
“UCLU Friends of Palestine would like to make clear that the protest was not organised on behalf of the society, or affiliated to the society in any way.”
The violence that unfolded on the 27th was by no means an isolated incident, with a similar set of events occurring in January at a similar peace event held by Kings College London’s Jewish Society. There, protesters smashed windows, threw chairs, set off fire alarms and chanted “Nazis” at the students blockaded inside.
Devora, who is an activist of ‘Stand with us UK’ raised her concerns about how the rise of anti-Semitism was being appeased by university culture. She said: “Jewish student concerns are not taken seriously.
“The NUS has elected a president who has blocked us from picking our own representatives, made appalling anti-Semitic remarks, stirred up racial tension telling students at SOAS that ‘the Prevent strategy was caused by Zionist lobby groups.’
“At one point a student at the National Conference of the NUS called for abolishing the commemoration of Holocaust Memorial day only to be met with avid applause and standing ovation.”
She also spoke about how anti-Semitic hate crime had increased by 60 per cent last year alone, leaving the Jewish community in a state of alarm. Devora criticised the university culture saying that: “The particularly middle-class, left-wing nature of universities has been conducive to students aligning themselves with anti-Israel views even though the vast majority of students are neither Muslim nor Jewish and have little knowledge of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“As a result of this, most students lack empathy with Jewish students when anti-Semitism presents itself on campus.
“My grandparents are refugees, and it’s disheartening to see how Anti-Semitism is still a problem, even in Britain.”