Pro-Israel students have hailed a move by University College London to invite an Israeli speaker back to its campus 14 months after his previous talk was interrupted by anti-Zionist protestors.
The October 2016 talk by activist and ex-IDF commander Hen Mazzig, jointly held by the UCL Friends of Israel and King’s College London’s Israel Society, was halted after demonstrators stormed the venue.
An investigation found that “evidence that a smaller group of protestors intentionally disrupted the rights of others to exercise freedom of speech within the law, and that their behaviour caused stress and anxiety to students and staff at UCL”.
Today the university said that Mr Mazzig will return to UCL on January 25 to deliver a talk on the theme of “overcoming hate”.
Mr Mazzig told the JC that he thought the invitation had taken on “a symbolic importance that this type of behaviour is not acceptable”.
He said: “I understand the anti-Israel groups. It is something I have experienced often, and my country is not perfect. I will be the first to say that.
“But like when we see terror, or threats, or attacks, it is important not to be intimidated and it has only encouraged me to tell my story and show a different side to Israel that you see in the media.”
Tamara Berens, the president of King’s College London’s Israel Society, said it was “great step” by UCL towards averting an unofficial Israel boycott.
She said: “I am really, really pleased that the university has taken the time to consider inviting Hen back and then doing it.
“I hope he will be able to tell his story this time. To make up for (the interrupted event) the university should ensure the students who stopped him speaking understand that they have to engage in dialogue – not just shout and bang on windows.”
UCL president and provost, Professor Michael Arthur, who will chair the event, said: “Our invitation to Hen Mazzig is a demonstration of our commitment to freedom of speech.
“UCL is a university that believes in, and aims pro-actively to promote, racial and religious tolerance as well as freedom of speech for all within the law.”
In a speech last month Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, denounced “no platforming” and attempts to silence speakers on UK campuses.
Under proposals submitted by Mr Johnson, universities could face a variety of penalties from the new body – including fines, suspension or deregulation – for failing to uphold free speech.
The UCL Friends of Palestine Society criticised the university’s invitation to Mr Mazzig in posts on Facebook and Twitter, saying the IDF is “an army complicit in numerous war crimes”.
Mr Mazzig, billed as an international speaker and LGBTQ activist, served in the IDF for almost five years. As a lieutenant he worked as an intermediary between the IDF, the Palestinian Authority, the UN, and non-governmental organizations in the West Bank.
He has since talked about his experiences to thousands of students throughout the USA, Canada and UK, and has written articles published in the International Business Times, The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, among others.