‘’Shame! Shame! Shame!’’
These were the incessant chants heard yesterday at an event at King’s College London, where Dan Meridor, former centrist Israeli politician, was about to speak.
An event where each student who entered the room was called a ‘’terrorist’’ or a ‘’criminal’’ and was personally bombarded with accusations.
It was the second aggressive protest in London within a month after the UCL outburst. Surrounding the room, intimidating the students, humiliating them in public and doing everything to stop the event from taking place or interfering with it up to a point where the speaker can’t hear himself talk - the same tactics sadly remain.
The moment I watched the videos of the protest I shivered. I can’t help making the disturbing and impossible comparison between darker times in our history and today.
It seems in recent months UK campuses have become a valid place to unquestioningly and violently defame Israel and those who support the Jewish state or engage with it.
When I arrived in the UK two years ago, I assumed there would be something that now looks so difficult to find, called academic freedom.
British universities were supposed to be a place where you could express your opinion and have a discussion and a debate.
Instead, student protesters, backed by external organisations, do anything in their power to disrupt events and single out Israeli speakers or events.
We are in a month where a boycott motion will be proposed in a central London university. A month where another Israeli speaker was protested against again, only because he is an Israeli. A month where the Israeli ambassador was barely allowed to speak at a UK university, and one where a cultural hummus event has been attacked by protesters claiming that hummus is not Israeli and therefore the event should be shut down.
“Shame, shame, shame”? These protesters are the ones who should be ashamed. Ashamed for breaching every code of conduct and principle of freedom of speech again and again, ashamed of the double standard and hypocrisy that brings them to protest on campus only at Israel-related events, whether they are about culture, politics, human rights or food.
We often debate about the boundaries between anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism. I believe this month is evidence that the boundaries have become blurry and in some places non-existent on campus.
It is not a political decision or policy these protesters are protesting about. Not an incident on the border or a specific human rights issue.
One might ask themselves, why would they protest against a country in its totality? Against all the people who live in it? Why would they protest against the average Israeli who want to live their life in peace? These questions remain unanswered.
Now is the time we need to say it out loud - we are standing up for our right as a people. For our right to live freely and express our opinions without fear from been harassed, intimidated and humiliated. For the ability to be proud of our origins and our support and passion towards the place we come from and connect to.
No Jewish student should leave an event on campus crying or being frightened. No student should think twice before entering a lecture. No student should face incitement just because he is having a dialogue about Israel.
I pose a challenge to all those groups who welcome human rights and freedom. If this is really what bothers you, join us this month in a unique nationwide initiative called “Peace Week UK”, arranged by StandWithUs UK. Join the dialogue sessions, engage in a conversation with the Peres Centre for Peace, hear other opinions and be heard and give us an opportunity to work with you and to respect you.
Jewish and non-Jewish students will be arranging food festivals, moderating workshops, history sessions and activities to bring people together.
I hope that in future we will be able to remember these events and learn from them and that one day instead of screams and chants, universities will be a place of dialogue and mutual respect, one that enables learning from one another, even those we disagree with. Anything less would truly be a shame.
Tamir Oren is executive director of StandWithUs UK, an Israel education organisation