Israeli speaker, Hen Mazzig, returns to UCL sparking protests

Israeli speaker, Hen Mazzig, returns to UCL sparking protests

Hen Mazzig returns to UCL after his event in 2016 was disrupted by protestors

At 6PM on Wednesday, 25th of January, protesters with both Israeli and Palestinian flags converged on the UCL Quad. Two protests had been organised, the first, ‘NO to Normalisation of Israeli Apartheid’ organised by the Friends of Palestine, and the second, ‘Tel Aviv Takes UCL Quad’, a counter protest organised by a collection of Jewish students and supporters of Israel from a number of London Universities.

The protests were sparked in response to UCL inviting an Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig to speak after a similar event held by the Friends of Israel Society in 2016 was disrupted. In doing this, the University wanted to demonstrate its commitment to free speech. However, the University has faced criticism from both sides with supporters of Hen unhappy that restrictions around the event excluded Jewish students who did not attend UCL. These restrictions, they claim, would not be imposed on any events held by other groups. Opponents of the event are critical of the University for what they claim is the normalisation of apartheid by inviting a former IDF Officer to speak at the University.  

The protest event page outlined the reasons for the protest:

UCL has invited an ex IDF soldier onto our campus to speak at an event which has been framed as a promotion of ‘understanding and peace’, when in reality it is a clear attempt to normalise the Israeli Apartheid, occupation, and human rights abuse taking place against Palestinians.

Around fifty students joined the Tel Aviv Takes UCL Quad counter-protest bringing with them Israeli flags and food to share. Tel Aviv Takes UCL Quad attendee Alex explained why she attended the protest:

I think it is important to hear different perspectives, I think Hen Mazzig brings a really interesting opportunity to hear something that a lot of people haven’t heard which is an IDF soldier that has served in COGAT, who has done humanitarian work, work to bridge the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians which is really important and that is something we support and we want to support here at UCL. People may disagree but it is an interesting place to start a dialogue and have a conversation.

In total around one hundred protesters amassed in the Main Quad to hear the Sabbatical Educational Officer Sarah Al-Aride speak among others before marching to the location of the talk.  When asked if UCL was were taking sides on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the UCL BME Sabbatical Officer Ayo Olatunji replied:

UCL and the Students’ Union UCL, say they are neutral, but when there is oppression, claiming neutrality is siding with the oppressor. If you are inviting back a member of the IDF you are pro-Israeli, saying freedom of speech has been obstructed despite the event still going on, you are pro-Israeli. There is no neutrality, everyone is on a side. It is clear UCL and indeed our Union has taken a side.

An Instagram post from the Students’ Union UCL account promoting the protest with the headline ‘War Criminal at UCL?’ was later taken down. A number of other Sabbatical Officers were at the event but declined to speak to Pi Media.

The event was organised and chaired by UCL Provost Professor Michael Arthur as a demonstration of UCL’s commitment to free speech. UCL BME Sabbatical Officer Ayo Olatunji explains why he,  among  others, had chosen to protest the event:

The reason for this protest is that we have someone who used to be part of the Israeli Defence Force, still works closely with them, he is an apologist for the Israeli apartheid, he is an apologist for the abuse of Palestinian human rights, he normalises all of those things. So we are here to exert our rights. We have the right to be here. We have the right to come and oppose him, and that is what we have come here to do today. To vocally and physically oppose him.

When asked why she felt it was important to attend the counter protest a Jewish student, Tamara, at UCL said:

It is really important to be here today to send a message of peace, and share the fact that we are interested in constructive dialogue. We are not interested in trying to shout over them or shout them down. We are here extending a hand to them. We brought food, which we have been trying to give to them and engage in a dialogue but  that is not what they are here for, unfortunately. They are here to shut us down and intimidate us. It’s important for us to be here to show that Jewish students are not afraid to come on campus and make our presence felt in a peaceful, sing, celebrating, and share our love of Israel.

I later interviewed Hen Mazzing, the video of which can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HaSsGdW1Fs&sns=fb

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