(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
LONDON – The Israeli Embassy in London was forced to cancel a talk by its deputy ambassador at Manchester University on Thursday, saying it could not guarantee her safety after threats from anti-Israel protesters.
Deputy Ambassador Talya Lador-Fresher was scheduled to speak to the Politics Society at the university’s student union, but after 300 people signed on to a Facebook protest page organized by another student society, Action Palestine, and information was received that protesters intended to storm the talk, the embassy asked for extra security. When the university could not guarantee this, the embassy called off the meeting.
On the Politics Society Facebook page, the society’s president Jonathan Ridge wrote: “This event has been canceled. The Israelis have pulled out on grounds of security, threats had been received and the possibility of large protests overwhelming security led to this decision. Apologies to all, you’re as disappointed as I am.”
Ridge said the move was “disappointing for freedom of speech,” especially since controversial speakers had been allowed to speak at the student union, including the previous Saturday, British Palestinian academic Azzam Tamimi, who has expressed sympathy for suicide bombers.
“There has been a clear lack of equality and it’s problematic for freedom of speech at higher education institutions,” Ridge said. “It’s much better to have a policy of engagement rather than pass up the opportunity to question and hear what they have to say – that’s the entire point of university – to hear different viewpoints.”
Ridge said he had received e-mails threatening him about the talk.
Ambassador Ron Prosor expressed disappointment that an institution that is supposed to protect academic freedom failed to do so. He said the talk will be rescheduled.
“Israel will continue to represent its view and position across the UK and will not be intimidated by groups who threaten violence,” Prosor said.
The Union of Jewish Students said it was shocked but “sadly unsurprised” by the threat of violence by students opposed to the talk.
“Moreover, the undemocratic implementation by a fringe, extremist minority of a ‘No Platform Policy’ against representatives of the Jewish state smacks of totalitarianism of the worst kind,” UJS spokesman Mark Wolfson said.
In reference to Tamimi’s appearance at the university the previous week, he added: “While they attack anyone who challenges their hatred, they continue to invite speakers who advocate violence. UJS repeats its call for the government and university authorities across the country to deal with this issue with all the care and concern afforded to other minority groups.”