Police called as pro-Israel meeting at King's College London disrupted by protesters

By Naomi Firsht, January 20, 2016
Ami Ayalon

Ami Ayalon

Police were called to a pro-Israel meeting at a London university after pro-Palestinian protesters smashed a window, threw chairs and set off fire alarms.

Over 100 people arrived at King's College London to hear former head of Shin Bet Ami Ayalon speak at an event organised by the university’s Israel Society.

The event was oversubscribed as there was only room for 56 people in the room, leaving many people, including protesters, outside the venue.

The protesters reacted by banging on the windows, chanting “Free free Palestine”, throwing chairs in the corridor and setting off fire alarms on every floor of the building.

An LSE student who was at the event said: “The room was ambushed: banging on the windows, waving flags, bashing the door. You could hear screaming.

“It was really quite frightening inside. All I could see was from one window banging on the window, banging on the ceiling – stamping. I could hear screaming."

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "Britain and Israel share many important academic links and speakers must be able to address meetings peacefully.

"Our universities should be safe spaces for students to expand their minds, and there can be no justification for violent intimidation that curtails free speech."

In a statement the Union of Jewish Students said: "There can be no justification for the events last night at KCL.

"The KCLSU Israel society were hosting an event about peace and were greeted by violence and intimidation. The fact that the police had to be called by the university in order to protect students from fellow students is a disgrace.

"It is however important to note that these acts were caused by a loud minority. Just 25 people managed to disrupt an event attended by nearly 60 while over 100 others who wished to hear the speaker and engage positively were turned away as there was no more space for them.

"Lastly we would like to commend the organisers of last night's events for their commitment throughout. The intimidation of last night will not stop Jewish students across the country from ensuring that campus can be presented with a balanced debate about Israel."

The Metropolitan Police said an incident was reported after 5pm on Tuesday.

"Officers from Westminster are investigating an allegation of assault and criminal damage at a protest.

"Officers attended and found that a small number of those protesting had gained access to the building where they continued their protest. The demonstration concluded at approximately 6.45pm.

"A 20-year-old woman reported she had been struck on the hand by a protestor. No injuries were caused. It was also reported that damage had been caused to a door.

"No arrests were made."

In a statement King's College said: "Universities create environments in which debate from all sides on issues of political, scientific, moral, ethical and religious significance is possible, and King’s is no exception. The safety of our students, staff and the general public is paramount to us and we are committed to acting as a responsible organisation."

Professor Ed Byrne, King's president and principal, has launched an investigation into the incident.

A Kings' spokesman said: "Professor Byrne will also be writing to students to remind them that violent protest is totally unacceptable and that we expect them to be tolerant and respectful of others’ views and opinions.

"We are proud of our diverse community and are absolutely committed to respect for all of our staff and students and to peaceful and respectful dialogue where people have conflicting views. We do not, and will not, condone the use of any form of violent protest."

King's College's student union said the event had met all the requirements asked of student groups.

"For this event, that meant making sure Safe Space monitors and security were present. We strongly support free speech- student groups should be able to host external speakers that comply with our policies, and students should also be able to constructively and peacefully protest.

"However, we don’t support violent action taking place, especially around our students, and we don’t support action leading to an approved event closing early."

The union said students who feel "frightened or intimidated" on the campus should contact officials.

In a statement Yachad said: “We condemn their actions in the strongest possible terms – attempting to shut down debate and dialogue runs contrary to the values of Yachad.”

A statement from the Israeli Embassy in London said: "Last night’s violence at King’s College London, during an event with Ami Ayalon, is shocking and shameful. It reflects the fear that groups centred around hatred of Israel harbour toward those who promote dialogue and a peaceful solution in our region. The Embassy of Israel is deeply concerned by this incident, and will turn to the relevant British authorities, to ensure that visiting Israeli speakers are not harassed on UK campuses."

In a Facebook post, Esther Endfield, one of the organisers of the meeting, said she had been assaulted during the incident which she had reported to the police.

She said that 15 police officers were called and that the meeting was halted and the building evacuated after fire alarms were set off by protesters.

Her full post:
“Protests by KCL action Palestine at this event was inevitable but it was never inevitable that it would turn violent, not to the point that I have just reported being assaulted to the police (which is also being investigated under a hate crime), not to the point that there were chairs thrown at the room and at me, not to the point where they were so violent that Kings College London windows have been smashed, not to the point where two police cars and two police vans along with 15 + officers came to protect the people inside the room, not to the point that in a 4 story building that on each floor the fire alarms were set off 15 + times, not to the point where my event had to be stopped and the building evacuated because college security and the police were so scared that they would light a real fire and that we wouldn’t know because of the false alarms. When did I become so unsafe in one of the global universities in the world that we can no longer hold an event without being scared for our safety.

"What if I hadn’t arranged the 3 campus security guards plus 3 Safe Space Offers (plus 7 other staff- included KCL and KCLSU staff), what if all the protesters had got into the building, what if they had managed to get into the room and started throwing the chairs at the people inside, what if they had started hitting not only windows but speaker and the people attending, what if they had set a fire, what if I had actually got hit so badly that I would actually have been hurt to the point that I would have been injured, what if KCL Action Palestine would have come to event with questions and challenged the speaker in a respectful and peaceful manner…

"Also sincere apologies to the 200+ people that came to our event to listen and learn, I’m truly sorry that it turned violent and to the 150 of you that got turned away because only 56 people being allowed into the room. Thank you for coming along and giving an Israel society a chance to have its voice heard. Despite us being shut down early I heard that he was actually a great speaker and I wish I could have been in there to listen. I hope that in the future that no student society event ever gets violent and looking forward to seeing you all at the next event."

Last updated: 4:41pm, January 24 2016