A report published by UCL concludes that the protest on the 27th October created ‘a hostile and aggressive atmosphere’ that inhibited the freedom of speech of UCL students. Whilst the UCL Friends of Israel society accept the findings, Hen Mazzig, the speaker at the event, denounces the university, stating that ‘when it comes to anti-Semitism they don’t take a firm stand’.
On the 31st of January, UCL published a report on the three-month investigation headed by Professor Geraint Rees, which looked into the events of the 27th October. The report has a number of recommendations, such as suggesting that a number of students be subject to disciplinary measures.
On the 27th October, an event organized by the UCLU Friends of Israel Society, which featured Hen Mazzig as the speaker, was subject to opposition and a large protest conducted by Palestinian supporters. Mazzig was a former IDF Humanitarian Officer, his connection to the IDF appeared to be the main point of contention with the Palestinian supporters, who claimed that he was a ‘war criminal’ and ‘murderer’. These claims are unsubstantiated and denied by Mazzig himself, who insists that he has never killed anyone or participated in any war crimes.
For a comprehensive account of the evening, here is our article we published in October.
The protest itself was deemed as violent by many, however, this was a point of clash that did not end in any form of consensus. There were numerous reports of pushing and shoving, one particular act was captured by Pi Media and other publications on video. In addition, three pro-Palestinian protestors were seen forcing themselves in through windows to the room the talk was being held in. However, the violent nature of the protesters was not all on the ‘Palestinian’ side, attendees of the talk were also accused of being verbally aggressive, with one student telling a protestor that they are ‘at risk of radicalization’ and therefore should be ‘referred to the home office’. This same student claimed that Islam was a ‘violent religion’.
Hen Mazzig told Pi Media that he found it ‘troubling’ that he was not asked by the investigation to provide an account, he suggests that, as a result, the report ‘lacks credibility’. Mazzig continues to be critical of the report stating that; ‘It fails to acknowledge the true motivation of the protesters: antisemitism.’
The report by Professor Rees indicates that both sides were guilty of acting in an aggressive manner, stating that; ‘that there was a hostile and tense atmosphere, with verbal hostility and flag waving from both groups’. The report goes on to say; ‘both protesters and counter-protesters in the G03 lecture theatre were verbally hostile and occasionally verbally abusive towards each other.’ Whilst there were reports of assaults on both sides, the investigation established that; ‘a complaint of assault from within the Haldane room to the police was withdrawn; a further complaint of assault by being crushed against a wall could not be substantiated’.
One finding of the investigation is particularly damning, it says that one of the chants; ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!’ could be considered ‘anti-Semitic’ as the statement goes beyond calling for a free Palestine and could suggest the destruction of the state of Israel.
Overall, the report concludes that the majority of the attendees acted in a non-violent manner and that only a small number of students acted in a way that violated the law and UCL’s Code for students. Mazzig appears to disagree with this, he believes the report tries to ‘equate the actions of the 100 people of the angry mob’ with a smaller number of people. The report continues, arguing that whilst, (with the exception of pushing and shoving) the event was non-violent, this does not mean the protest was peaceful as the attempts to stop the event and intimidating shouts and chants created a ‘hostile and aggressive atmosphere’.
The investigation suggests four recommendations, the first discusses the possibility of disciplinary actions for a number of students (in addition to indicating that a UCL visitors code of conduct is necessary), the second and third discuss event management at high-risk events, and the fourth suggests promoting ‘racial and religious tolerance in university culture’.
It is this last recommendation that Mazzig takes issue with. For Mazzig, the establishment of an ‘interfaith champion’ to deal with islamophobia and anti-Semitism, reveals the ‘clear-cut antisemitic and irrational hate and violence against Jewish students’. As ‘Islamphobia’, whilst accepting its importance as an issue, ‘is completely irrelevant to the motivation of this attack and the actions of the mob.’ In scathing concluding remarks he posits that ‘schools are perfectly willing to tackle homophobia, racism, oppression of minorities, and any other hatred- head on, but when it comes to anti-Semitism they don’t take a firm stand.’
In a statement, UCLU Friends of Israel society are supportive of the investigation stating that ‘The proposals clearly demonstrate that UCL stands strongly by its democratic values to respect and honour all students- regardless of their religious or political leanings.’
In the interest of equity, we reached out to a number of Pro-Palestinian protestors for comment on the investigation’s findings, however, they are yet to respond. We have also contacted UCLU Friends of Palestine society for comment, however, they are also yet to respond. We will update you if either decide to respond.
If you were part of the protest and have something to say feel free to either leave a comment on this article or email Pi News (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will be sure to present your perspective.
You can find the whole report here in PDF form.