Division over Israel highlighted in StandWithUs conference protest against occupation

Na'amod activists wearing elephant masks interrupt pro-Israel charity's student conference, later saying they 'could not stay silent' over the occupation


Tensions over Israel exploded as members of an anti-occupation group disrupted a pro-Israel student conference in north-west London.

UK-based Na’amod, which formed last year to protest the occupation of the Palestinian territories, later said it could “no longer stay silent” on the issue, which it called a “moral crisis” facing Israel.

As part of their ‘Elephant in the Room’ campaign, its activists interrupted Sunday’s conference for students, organised by StandWithUs UK, a pro-Israel education charity, after its UK academic director invited attendees with criticisms of Israel to “shout them out”.

Three Na’amod members, who were wearing elephant masks, unfurled a banner at the back of the hall which read: “Stand with us against the occupation."

Upon being asked to leave, around 12 other protesters held a parallel gathering outside the venue – Hendon’s Pillar Hotel – in which they read anti-occupation testimonies from Palestinians and Israelis.

Jess Kempner, a Na’amod member, said: “The occupation has been an elephant in the room of our community for far too long.

“Israel is part of our litrugy, culture and daily conversations, and we can no longer stay silent about this moral crisis which hurts so many Palestinians and Israelis, or pretend that it’s something it’s not.

“StandWithUs has spent years defending the occupation in our synagogues, schools, youth movements and J-Socs. We can and must do better.

“It’s time for us to take a stand and demand that our community lives up to its moral traditions, and commits itself to freedom, equality and justice for all.”

Dame Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, Israeli ambassador Mark Regev and Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, were among the speakers at the StandWithUs's event.

StandWithUs UK told the JC that it invited Na’amod to broaden the discourse around Israel-Palestine, saying that attendees were from “a multitude of backgrounds, religions and political beliefs.”

It added: “We welcome all people who have a genuine interest in education, discussion, and respectful debate. Those who prefer disruptions and one-dimensional slogans will not deter us.

"We invite anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding to join us.”

Nicole Cherniavsky, a student at Exeter University, said the conference was the first “where I didn't feel as though I was speaking to an echo-chamber”.

Na’amod has previously organised protests outside the Board of Deputies’ headquarters, and at airports before flights to Israel for Birthright tours.

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