Following protests during his previous visit in October 2016, the ex-IDF soldier will return to give a talk entitled “Overcoming Hatred”, to be chaired by UCL Provost Professor Michael Arthur
Hen Mazzig, an Israeli speaker and writer, has been invited to speak at UCL, as a display of the university’s commitment to free speech on campus. His engagement, which will be attended by about 100 UCL students and staff, will be taking place on Thursday 25th January.
In October 2016, Hen Mazzig’s visit to the university, organised by the UCL Friends of Israel Society, became worldwide news following the decision made by the UCL Friends of Palestine Society to stage a protest at the event.
He is to give a talk entitled “Overcoming Hatred”, to be chaired by UCL Provost Professor Michael Arthur, who hinted at the prospect of Mr Mazzig’s return following the events of 2016.
“Our invitation to Hen Mazzig is a demonstration of our commitment to freedom of speech”, said Professor Arthur, in a statement to the Jewish Chronicle. “UCL is a university that believes in, and aims pro-actively to promote, racial and religious tolerance as well as freedom of speech for all within the law.”
Following his previous engagement, which was forcibly cut short, Mr Mazzig was escorted by UCL security, disguised in a fluorescent jacket, away from the Haldane Room, which was blocked by about 150 protestors.
Following allegations of violence and aggravation caused by the protestors, resulting in a police presence, UCL conducted an investigation into the incidents surrounding the event, which was described in the report as having taken place “in a highly disruptive and intimidatory atmosphere”.
The UCL Friends of Israel Society commended UCL’s decision to host Mr Mazzig on their Facebook page, writing “As a global institution functioning under democratic laws we value our university’s commitment to uphold freedom of speech for all”. They added that the event should serve as “an opportunity for us as students to redefine how we choose to engage on issues we disagree on”.
In response to the event, the UCL Friends of Palestine Society stated that they oppose Mazzig’s return. “Despite the union opposing the university’s decision to invite Mr. Mazzig”, they wrote on Facebook, “the university has decided to unequivocally ignore the student-elected body designed to represent us students and put forth our concerns”.
Hen Mazzig, who stated that he intends to use his visit as an opportunity “to promote understanding and dialogue for peace”, served in the IDF for five years as part of the Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit. Since then, he has become an international speaker and activist, discussing his unique perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict, including as an openly gay commander.
In a recent opinion post in The Jewish News, whilst Mazzig applauded UCL for inviting him back to speak, he noted his disappointment that attendance was being constricted to UCL students and staff only, saying “prohibiting the attendance of the very minority that was attacked during my 2016 UCL event…is inherently impeding freedom of speech”.
In the same article, Mazzig declared that his work in the COGAT unit involved “humanitarian co-operation with the Palestinians”, including the building of facilities such as schools and hospitals.
However, the UCL Friends of Palestine Society, following the 2016 protest, claimed the unit was “responsible for the day to day management of the military occupation, including demolition of Palestinian homes, forced displacement, restrictions of movement, and is headquartered in illegal settlements”.
In November 2017, UCL Friends of Palestine Society itself came under scrutiny for hosting two notorious speakers Azzam Tamimi, who have previously been accused of supporting suicide bombing, and Miko Peled, who sparked outrage in September when he was accused of suggested that whether the Holocaust happened was open to discussion.
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