Anti-Israel activists hound Israeli Arab diplomat

Student organization accuses pro-Palestinian protesters of shutting down debate after disruption at Edinburgh University talk.

February 6, 2011 04:07
3 minute read.
'zionism is racism'

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LONDON – Described as a scene “reminiscent of tyrants silencing their opposition,” a student organization has condemned a group of protesters who disrupted a talk at a Scottish university by an Israeli- Arab diplomat accusing them of shutting down debate and free speech.

On Wednesday evening, a group of anti-Israel activists, mainly nonstudents, descended on an event at Edinburgh University where Ishmael Khaldi, an Israeli Beduin diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was scheduled to address students.

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The protesters surrounded the senior Muslim diplomat and hurled abuse at him. Security officers had to be brought in to contain the situation and the event was eventually canceled.

“This isn’t free speech; it is hatred, it is vandalism,” Khaldi told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.

“These activists abuse the values of freedom and democracy of the UK, they put the seeds of hatred in Europe and they betray the cause of moderate Palestinians who, despite everything, are ready to do everything to reach reconciliation and peace with Israel, toward establishing an independent Palestinian state.”

Israel’s ambassador to the UK Ron Prosor said he was not surprised to see this at a British university.

“Ishmael Khaldi reflects the tolerant and open Israel of 2011,” said the ambassador. “These attempts to suppress his freedom of speech come as no surprise.

Once more a British university views this intimidating, mob-rule as acceptable.”

Raheem Kassam, director of Student Rights, a London-based organization which fights extremism on campus, was appalled by the crowd’s behavior.

“It’s a shame these protesters, many of whom weren’t even students, didn’t feel confident enough to quiz Mr. Khaldi in a rational and academic manner,” he said.

Kassam highlighted that an event with the editor of an Arabic newspaper, Abdel Bari Atwan, at the London School of Economics in December was not disrupted despite radical views that people disagree with.

“Atwan is on record as claiming he would dance in Trafalgar Square if Iranian missiles hit Israel. However, his event was not subject to the disruption that took place at Edinburgh. It flies in the face of those who defend controversial speakers on campuses, if they attempt to silence people they don’t agree with.

“This gagging is contrary to the freedom of speech student groups work hard to defend,” Kassam said.

Earlier that day, the university’s Palestinian Society hosted the US anti-war, Marxist-Leninist activist Mike Prysner. The former American soldier, who has compared Israel’s action in Gaza to Nazis, urged students to fight against “imperialism and for justice in the Middle East.”

In a statement on Friday, the university stopped short of condemning the action but said it was “unfortunate” that the protesters that disrupted the event did not allow for the constructive exchange of ideas and opinions.

“The university attaches great importance to freedom of speech as long as points of view are put across in a safe and lawful way,” an Edinburgh University spokesman told the Post. “It is unfortunate that this event did not provide the opportunity for the constructive exchange of ideas and opinions.”

Initially the talk had been scheduled to have been hosted by the university’s International Relations Society. However, the society pulled out saying it would be wrong to provide a platform for a representative of Israel at the expense of Palestinian who “live under apartheid.”

“The IR society had a long discussion about hosting Ishmael Khaldi,” said the society’s president Ledys Sanjuan. “We came to the conclusion that providing a platform for a representative of the Israeli state would be at the expense of the millions of Palestinians who live under apartheid.”

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