Students at University of Essex chant 'from the river to the sea' to protest British colonel's talk

Students chanted the Hamas rallying cry at Colonel Richard Kemp


Dozens of students at the University of Essex chanted anti-Israel slogans on Tuesday in protest of talk on campus by a retired British army officer.

Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, was giving a talk to the university's Conservative Society about the UK’s troop withdrawal last month.

Col. Kemp is a staunch advocate of Israel’s right to defend itself and his appearance provoked a protest from students who claimed in a statement issued that he was attempting to “erase the identity and histories” of Palestinian students on campus

Demonstrating outside the building where the talk was taking place they chanted: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”   

“From the river to the sea" is a common refrain made by anti-Israel campaigners who advocate the dismantling of the Jewish state. It has also long been a Hamas rallying cry.

A spokesperson for the Pinsker Centre, a think tank which defends free speech on campus and campaigns against antisemitism, said: “There is now enormous pressure on student unions to permanently blacklist and no-platform anyone deemed even remotely sympathetic to Israel, even if they don’t speak on the subject.

“Colonel Kemp is not Israeli, his talk had nothing to do with Israel, and yet Israel was a driving force of an aggressive and threatening protest which was happy to deploy a well-known racist chant. Clearly the violent atmosphere on campus urgently needs to be considered.”

In February 2019, more than 200 students at the university voted against the creation of a Jewish society on campus. Despite opposition the vote was carried and a Jewish society was formed.

The same year, Dr Maaruf Ali, a lecturer in computers and electronics, was dismissed from the university after writing on social media that “the Zionists next want to create a society here at our university”.

Following his dismissal, Dr Ali denied antisemitism and insisted the students voting against the creation of a Jewish society on campus was against the ideology of Zionism.

He said: "I am not against Jews, I don't hate their religion, their people or their culture.

"I believe that everyone should be allowed to form any society. This is what I'm thinking now - which is what I didn't think at the time."

Earlier this year, the Pinsker Centre published a report detailing that student unions and faculty bodies at a quarter of the UK’s top 40 universities published “highly partisan, anti-Israel statements” in the wake of the 11-day war between Israel and Gaza. The report found many of the statements could be construed as breaching the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

A spokesman for The University of Essex said: “The University hosts hundreds of external speakers each year, expressing a diversity of different and contrasting views. These include events at which speakers who are well-known commentators in support of the state of Israel are invited to speak.

"The University has a legal duty to promote academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law. Protests and counter-speech within the law are permitted on our campuses. However, protests must be within the law and we are investigating this protest and if antisemitism has occurred action will be taken.”

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