Students and visitors are seen walking around the main campus buildings of University College London (UCL), part of the University of London, Britain, April 24, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
In the past year, two top IDF generals visited University College London (UCL). In January 2017 Maj.- Gen. Elazar Stern visited the campus, followed by Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin in November 2017. Both have vast military experience, both are trained in combat and both fought in wars to defend Israel. Both spoke at events at the university that were open to the public, promoted online and had no push-back to cancel.
Dozens of students gathered to hear their stories and insights. Both of the generals left the school after the events through the front gates, took a taxi to their hotel and had uneventful nights in London.
However, my own event, in October 2016, was nothing but chaos.
Unlike the Israeli generals, I faced 150 students protesting my talk, trying to shut me down. “Intifada, intifada!” “Where is Hen? Where is Hen? War criminal! Murderer! Shame!” they chanted as they banged on the doors of the classroom where I was speaking.
Later, several of the protesters broke in through the window and assaulted Jewish students who were in the room with me. I was escorted off campus under police protection.
This horrific event sparked a debate between policy makers in the UK Parliament, leading to the adoption of a new definition of antisemitism to include anti-Israel activity as a hate crime.
It also led the provost of UCL to invite me to return to the campus, in what is now less than a week from today, to share my story in a better, safer setting then the last event, which was arranged by Jewish students and CAMERA on Campus UK (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting). However, UCL failed to open the event to the public and insisted that it will be a closed event for UCL students and staff only, denying many of the Jewish students from other London-based universities, who arranged the previous event, the ability to participate.
In recent weeks, the anti-Israel student group UCL Friends of Palestine launched an online campaign against my talk, yet again. Facebook was flooded with post after post calling me terrible names, urging the university to disinvite me. Later, an article bashing me was published in the notorious anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada, branding me as the “Israeli Guru of Grotesque Behavior.”
This makes me wonder – why are IDF generals not targets for protest, while I am? I am a 28-year-old Israeli sharing my personal story about overcoming countless personal challenges, discussing my Iraqi and Tunisian (Berber) family history, the journey to Israel to escape persecution in Muslim countries. I share my story of how I was almost killed in a terrorist attack when I was 12, and yet decided to join the IDF humanitarian unit, promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians through cooperation. And I talk about my struggle to come out as an openly gay IDF officer.
So why is that so controversial? Because my whole life story shatters the propaganda – the desperate smear campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.
This isn’t the first time students have protested against me sharing my story – from London to Toronto and from there to Los Angeles, to New York, to Seattle. I have been harassed on college campuses by students with one agenda: to prevent me from sharing the truth. My story terrifies them because it doesn’t fit into their narrative that Israelis are child-killing war criminals – and suggests that maybe, just maybe, we are also human beings with the right to freedom and self-determination.
As is always the case when governments, groups, or even individuals unite against freedom and equality, they can’t win the argument truthfully, so they resort to protests to shut their “opposition” up. In this case, me.
Should these same protests occur against another individual like me – be it a gay man or an Arab, North African or a Haitian, it would rightfully be labeled racist, homophobic or bigoted. Yet the protests against me are perceived by some as legitimate, simply because of the nationality I was born into. How on earth is that legitimate? Facing the hateful comments and untrue statements about me takes a tremendous toll and it’s challenging to deal with the attacks against me on campuses. At times I ask myself if it’s really worth it fighting a battle that has been going on for ages against the same old hatred of my people. But then I remember that that is what the concept of Israel is all about. It is a country that rose from the ashes of the gas chambers and the anti-Jewish pogroms and bloodied streets of Baghdad – a people rising up and saying “no more – we too have a right to self determination in the homeland which we were expelled from by colonialist forces repeatedly, throughout history.”
Time will show that the extremists who speak out against me are on the wrong side of history – for all peoples, and whatever protests may come from my talk, I will not be silenced by regressive voices who deny the right of any person to speak.
Free speech is one of the most important basic rights in any society, a value which was instilled in me as an Israeli citizen, a right which, by the way, the Palestinian government denies its citizens. Those who silence dissenting voices are simply cowards, denying basic human rights, whether on a college campus or in a government. I will arrive in London this week and I will proudly share my story for all those open to having a genuine respectful dialogue for all peoples. Nothing will change that.The author is a writer, public speaker and strategic communications consultant from Tel Aviv. www.HenMazzig.com.