University blocks anti-Israel event in venue named after Jewish donor

Talk by South African academic, due at King's College London as part of Israel Apartheid Week, will now be hosted by student union


An event planned as part of Israel Apartheid Week activities at a London university will no longer take place in a lecture theatre named after a Jewish philanthropist following complaints from pro-Israel students.

King’s College London confirmed last night that the session, featuring a South African Muslim scholar, would now be hosted by the university’s students’ union.

The founder of the university’s Israel Society had written to King’s’ principal to express his anger at planned IAW events.

Sami Steinbock had cited the talk, due to take place next week, by Professor Farid Esack, who, he claims, has been accused of making statements with antisemitic content and of sympathising with the Charlie Hebdo attackers.

Following Mr Steinbock’s complaint, which was supported by groups including UK Lawyers for Israel and reported in the JC, King’s decided to move the lecture from the Edmond J Safra Theatre on its campus.

The venue is named after the Beirut-born Jewish banker who became a leading philanthropist before his death in 1999.

A King’s spokeswoman said the event would not take place in the theatre.

She added: “King’s College London is proud of its diverse and inclusive community, which comprises students and staff from more than 150 countries worldwide from all backgrounds and faiths.

“We do not tolerate racism or harassment of any kind and are committed to respect for all of our students and staff.

“Universities have a unique challenge to create environments in which open and uncensored debate from all sides on issues of political, scientific, moral, ethical and religious significance can take place without fear of intimidation and within the framework of the law.

“King’s is no exception. The university has strict procedures in place to check the appropriateness of events and speakers hosted on campus, as well as promoting beneficial relationships between all individuals and groups at the university.

“Due process has been followed in relation to the KCLSU events taking place next week.”

Mr Steinbock said he was disappointed that the event would now take place in the students’ union.

He said: “After receiving a lengthy and detailed complaint about the use of university facilities for an event featuring a speaker who has made extreme comments, King's College London officially refused to clarify how its risk-assessment procedures were conducted.

“It similarly refused to specifically comment on the platform given to Professor Farid Essack. Instead, the institution issued a purposefully ambiguous statement relating to the dilemmas of free speech that could apply to any situation.

“Most distressingly, while KCL noted the event would no longer be taking place within the university's Safra Theatre - it purposefully omitted the fact that the autonomous student union have gone ahead and permitted the event to be held in the building that is soon to be its headquarters.

“King's College has failed to adequately address the concerns of Jewish students or to address the worrying concerns that anti-Israeli discrimination is institutional.

“In short, they verbally confirmed to me that the event was unacceptable and would not be hosted in the university. Instead though, the event will be hosted by a body full-funded by King's College London in a building leased by King's College London for future SU occupation.”

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