Student union knew anti-Israel event could turn violent, issued no warning

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AP/Emil Salman

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

A statement posted by the student union prior to Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely’s appearance Tuesday at the London School of Economics (LSE) which ended with protestors trying to rush her car shows that its leadership knew of the potential for violence, yet it issued no warnings to the authorities ahead of time.

The union, which had invited the ambassador to speak at an event entitled “Israel’s Perspective: A New Era in the Middle East,” posted in advance that “it is not possible to guarantee complete safety” due to not knowing “how the discussions will unfold.” Nevertheless, it did not advise either university security or the embassy so that disruptors could be put a safe distance away or extra vigilance at the scene could head off violent confrontation.

During the event, Hotovely spoke to some 50 students and took questions while a crowd screamed and banged on drums outside the venue. In a video clip of the street outside afterwards, at least one thrown object could be seen hitting Hotovely as she was being hurried to her car, with a hate mob screaming epithets at her. They also chanted the traditional call for erasing Israel, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, and waved flags of the Iraqi militia Kata’ib Hezbollah.

Jewish students in the area of the shouting crowd told the JC news site that they were “terrified” they would be attacked if recognized as Jews. Both the British Foreign and Education Secretaries condemned the intimidation, calling it “unacceptable.” Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would support a police investigation into the demonstration, saying that “antisemitisim has no place in our universities or our country.”

Meanwhile, LSE Debate Society Vice President Abhijith Subramanian told the BBC, “She had a few uncomfortable moments getting into her car because people were booing but that’s just freedom of speech.” He rejected that the protestors were antisemitic, saying, “I didn’t hear everything but most protesters were against Israel’s policies or the debating society rather than the ambassador’s religion.”

Aside from the subliminal messaging regarding “safety,” the student union’s anti-Israel bias was subtle but clear in different ways as well. It “acknowledged” that various students objected to the identity of the speaker, and left out her proper title when mentioning her name, calling her simply “Tzipi Hotovely.”

By contrast, it has made sure in other statements to refer to “His Excellency Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK.” The honorific does not even apply to Mr. Zomlot, who is not an ambassador as the UK does not recognize a state of Palestine; his accurate title is “the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK.”

For her part, Hotovely said in several interviews following the event that she would not be “intimidated” and that she would specifically increase the number of speaking engagements in her calendar.

‘I will continue to speak in every British campus,” the ambassador told the Daily Mail. “I will not allow those radical groups to shape the discourse in academia.”

“Those groups are really against this very basic value of dialogue [and] freedom of speech,” she added.

On Wednesday, an LSE spokesman called the intimidation “completely unacceptable,” and said that “Any students identified as being involved in making such threats will face disciplinary action.”

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