Death threats against Israeli speaker force cancellation of King’s College talk

Anti-Israel students celebrate the cancellation of conflict resolution discussion


The Maughan Library building, a 19th-century neo-Gothic building part of the King’s College London Strand Campus.

An Israeli speaker due to deliver a talk at King’s College London on conflict resolution was abused as “evil” and bombarded with death threats, forcing the event to be cancelled.

Dual Israeli-British citizen Ely Lassman, a philosophy teacher and public speaker, and Kiyah Willis, a “liberal” political activist, had been scheduled to speak on Wednesday evening in an event hosted by the university’s Israel Society.

News of the talk prompted anti-Israel student groups to deliver a letter to the dean demanding the university boycott Israel, acknowledge the "genocide" in Palestine, and revoke the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

The letter included the veiled threat that they would “escalate their actions” if KCL did not respond to their demands.

Death threats were then made towards Lassman on social media. Posts falsely claimed he had returned from “killing babies” in Gaza and called him “the embodiment of evil”.

Influential anti-Israel agitator and editor of Muslim news website 5Pillars Dilly Hussain wrote on X/Twitter that Lassman had possibly committed war crimes but later deleted the post and issued an apology.

One group of students allegedly suggested “jumping” (attacking) Lassman, who served in the Israel Defence Force between 2016 and 2019, and now runs educational charity, Prometheus on Campus.

The deluge of violent threats forced the speaker to pull out of the event.

“If they say they’re waiting for me with knives and bombs at the KCL campus, I don’t trust campus security to help me,” Lassman said.

Anti-Israel activists took the cancellation as a victory. KCL Students for Justice for Palestine – one of the groups who allegedly delivered the letter to the KCL dean – shared a copy of the cancellation email which referred to the death threats with the caption, “VICTORY TO THE PEOPLE.”

Willis claimed that protesters targeted Lassman because he is Israeli: “They wouldn't want to criticize a black woman, it seemed easier to criticize someone who was Israeli.”

Willis calls herself an “advocate for the secular liberal right,” and was accused of posting Islamophobic tweets, including one that said: "Islamophobia isn’t a real thing”. Officials at KCL suggested the Israel Society should disinvite Willis from the event or risk her being banned from campus.

Israel Society president and second-year history student, Aurele Tobelem, was worried about “the danger of jihad. No security would have assured us we would not see Islamicist violence on the streets of London because of the event we had organised.”

Tobelem called the saga a “deplorable campaign of hatred.” He has struggled to maintain his studies during the experience, is considering legal action against the protesters and has reported death threats to the police.

He blamed “a mob of students who are completely ideologically consumed – enabled on campus by woefully unable or even complicit academics [...] It is 2024, we are unable to guarantee freedom of expression on our campuses”.

Lassman said: “I did not think I was such a controversial figure.” He would like an apology from those who shared lies about him online and said: “KCL should apologise and say they are willing to hold events which some deem controversial and keep the speakers safe.”

In lieu of their campus discussion on “Conflict resolution: the Israeli-Palestinian case,” Willis and Lassman hosted an online talk, reaching hundreds of people.

A KCL spokesperson said: “We are committed to upholding and protecting freedom of expression, including the right to protest within the law. We have robust policies in place to ensure that the hundreds of events organised and hosted by students’ union societies every year, including those deemed to be contentious, can take place on campus safely.

“This event was no exception and whilst in our conversation with the Israeli Society we raised concerns about some of the extremely offensive public comments made by one of the invited speakers, we were clear that our aim was to support the student society in hosting an event on this topic.

“Racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, abuse and threats of violence are totally unacceptable and have no place at King’s. We encourage anyone who has any evidence of this taking place to report it to the police and to King’s so we can investigate in line with our rigorous policies.”

The JC has approached KCL Students’ Union, KCL Arab Society and KCL Students for Justice for Palestine for comment.

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