Here and There: The students who are our hope

Freedom of speech is something that our Jewish students can no longer take for granted.

By
November 17, 2016 18:44
 University College London Friends of Israel Society

Liora Cadranel, co-president of University College London Friends of Israel Society. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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My late mother-in-law always said how much she enjoyed being with young people – it kept her young. Now that I am close to the age that she was when she made this comment, I can appreciate exactly what she meant.

We are fortunate to have grandchildren both here and in the United Kingdom, and there is nothing I enjoy more than having a chat with them. They range in age from 17 to 26, and I consider myself lucky that they are happy to talk to me. It was just such a conversation with Keren, our student granddaughter in the UK, that put me in touch with her friend Liora Cadranel, co-president of University College London (UCL) Friends of Israel Society.

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What happened recently at University College is a cause of grave concern for both the university authority and Anglo Jewry.

UCL’s Friends of Israel Society, jointly with King’s College Israel Society, invited Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and international speaker, to address their meeting. Cadranel explained how they had particularly chosen Mazzig – who had served in the IDF’s COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories) unit – to speak about his humanitarian work in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), building medical facilities, schools, roads and infrastructure.

As she explained it, “Mazzig had witnessed both sides and possessed no bias. We thought the Friends of Palestine Society at UCL, in addition to the entire student body, would be delighted to hear from Mazzig not only about his IDF experience but also about his involvement with human rights and the LGBT community. Surely after meeting with and listening to him we would all be one step closer to the truth, one step closer to understanding the conflict and one step closer to peace.”

Unfortunately, as we now know, attendees at this meeting were forced to lock themselves into a room for protection against a 100-strong rabble gathered outside demonstrating against Mazzig. They had no choice but to remain in the lecture room to await some 30 police officers necessary to escort them through the crowds of hostile demonstrators gathered outside.

I asked Cadranel how UCL’s administration had reacted to the riot. Her response was disappointment at their weak language, that “a small but noisy group of protesters attended.” This was a far cry from her experience and feelings.



“I found myself thinking I was in a dream, that none of this could be reality. Caught up in both physical commotion and the hateful chants was intimidating and at times frightening….”

The Israel Society students persevered, with Mazzig giving his talk behind closed doors while being subjected to banging on windows and warlike chants.

I asked Cadranel how this threatening situation had affected the participants.

“Everyone, without exception,” she said, “felt shaken and worried for their physical safety in the moment and throughout the evening. Yet I felt an inner conviction that it was correct for the event to proceed. Amidst aggressive chants we formed a circle and sang ‘Hatikva.’ In these moments there was a genuine sense of hope that truth and freedom of speech will ultimately prevail and have purpose. We will continue; otherwise we will be colluding with those who wish to shut down anything containing the word Israel.”

Particularly upsetting for Cadranel and her colleagues is that there are those who wish to project Israel, solely, as the aggressor. She finds it difficult to grasp why Israel – a country that protects freedom of speech, LGBT communities, women’s rights and humanitarian aid – is condemned and hated by the very students whose agenda is identical.

Why the double standard? Cadranel’s words that moved me the most were that in spite of the trauma that she and her fellow students experienced, they remained proud of being believers in the Jewish right to self-determination, proud to have been a part of the event and ultimately stand up for the truth. She believes that it is crucial that campuses provide safe and secure platforms enabling dialogue and debate that tackles tough questions. The right to freedom of speech, together with giving a voice to the nuanced voices of Israel, is something to which there should be total commitment. Initially the Student Union had banned Mazzig’s talk from taking place, but following protests from the organizers, on the grounds of freedom of speech, the banning was revoked.

Freedom of speech was denied to Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet and co-author with former justice minister Yossi Beilin of the Geneva Accord when, earlier this year, he experienced a hostile reception as he endeavored to address a joint meeting of King’s College Israel Society and the London School of Economics Israel Society.

Ayalon, a strong advocate of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, had hoped to present his concept of creating two states for two peoples. During the course of his week’s visit to the UK he addressed more than 1,000 people, but it was only at the King’s Israel Society’s meeting that he was met with violence.

A window was smashed; students were pushed and attacked, necessitating that the event be cut short due to the disruption.

He sought to make his voice heard above the shouting and abuse with little success. What shocked him most was the slogan of the protesters “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

This he justifiably interpreted as a call for the elimination of the State of Israel.

What shocks me the most is the seemingly inexorable increase of anti-Israel hate activity on campuses worldwide.

Freedom of speech is something that our Jewish students can no longer take for granted. How inspiring to learn, therefore, that there are Jewish students like Liora Cadranel who are proudly and bravely standing up for Israel. A big yashar koah to each and every one of them fighting for truth; they are our tikva, our hope.

The writer is public relations chair of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.

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