Azzam Tamimi, Hamas supporter, alongside Miko Peled, anti-Israel activist, visit the UCL campus sparking enormous controversy
After last year’s scandal with anti-Israel protesters targeting an event organised by a pro-Israel advocacy group, hundreds of students at University College London have voiced their objections on the hosting of two controversial pro-Palestinian speakers at an event held by the UCL Friends of Palestine Society.
The event, Segregated and Unequal: Palestinian Life in Apartheid Israel, examined the history and conflict in Palestine, getting an in-depth view on settlements and segregation from Azzam Tamimi, a British-Palestinian academic and Miko Peled, an Israeli-American human rights activist. The talk considered questions whether “Zionist equal(s) Settler” and discussed if “Genocide in Palestine could be attributed to the actions of the Israeli government”.
The speakers’ visit has sparked a lot of controversy in the UCL sphere. Azzam Tamimi, who is a former director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought (IIPT) and in the past has represented the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), on several occasions has openly declared his affiliation with Hamas drawing controversy to his advertised appearance.
“All the leaders of Hamas are my friends,” Dr. Tamimi has proclaimed at a student event at Queen Mary’s University in 2012, adding “I am not ashamed of my association with Hamas. Hamas, in my view, is the true representative of the Palestinian people.”
When pressed during the event to condemn Hamas’ civilian-targeted suicide attacks, Dr. Tamimi responded: “We are not in a court. I do not have to answer you.”
Alongside Tamimi was Miko Peled, an Israeli-American activist, who has also made controversial comments in the past. During this year’s Labour Party conference, Peled has renewed an alarm about antisemitism by proclaiming that the Holocaust should be up to a debate. In the context of free speech and Israel, Peled stated: “This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion.”
In response to the event organised by the UCL Friends of Palestine Society, the joint presidents of the UCL Jewish Society as well as the president of the UCL Friends of Israel Society has sent a letter to the UCL authorities protesting the presence of the speakers, stating that dozens of members of the societies have expressed their concerns in regard to the appearance of Dr. Tamimi and Mr. Peled on campus.
The statement issued stated: “By providing a platform for these openly hostile speakers, UCL Union is not only failing to uphold their own speaker guidelines, which explicitly prohibit speakers that espouse hate speech or incite acts of violence and terror, but is also neglecting the welfare and wellbeing of its Jewish students.”
During last year’s scandal at an event organised by a pro-Israel advocacy group officers had to break violent clashes between pro-Palestinian protesters and members of a pro-Israeli group, disrupting a talk by a former Israeli Defence Force member. The repercussions of this incident have been found as a “represented failure of the UCL Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech to adequately protect freedom of expression on campus.”
The UK-based Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) has proclaimed that “UCL should cancel this event and ensure that there is a campus that does not give antisemitism the space to thrive.”
A UCL spokesperson has responded to this statement by saying that the university “supports freedom of speech provided it stays within the law.” He has also added: “Our main concern is to ensure that events like this pass off smoothly and peacefully for students and staff. Our procedures and protocols for such events have been instituted in order to achieve this.”
While UCL is bound to support and protect the freedom of expression on campus, it must also uphold the guidelines of providing a balanced platform for all students. In response to this event, Richard Black, the Director of Student Rights at the Henry Jackson Society, a non-partisan group dedicated to supporting “equality, democracy and freedom from extremism on university campuses” told Pi:
“Peled and Tamimi are extreme speakers who present a distorted and bigoted narrative. Despite the legitimate concerns of a number of students, this event lacked an independent moderator or a balanced panel. The university could have done a lot more to mitigate the one-sided nature of the event. We wholeheartedly condemn the abhorrent views of the speakers as well as the disrespectful treatment of students who attempted to hold them to account.”
Featured image: Middle East Eye