UK students petition against restrictions on Israeli activist’s talk

Only University College London students allowed to attend

Hen Mazzig (photo credit: HEN MAZZIG)
Hen Mazzig
(photo credit: HEN MAZZIG)
Israeli activist Hen Mazzig is set to speak for a second time at University College London later this month, but in light of protests that disrupted his talk in 2016, restrictions have been placed on the event, sparking backlash among pro-Israel students.
UCL announced on Tuesday that it had invited Mazzig back to the university, in what it called “an explicit demonstration of its commitment to free speech,” given that his previous talk was cut short.
Mazzig, a writer, speaker and former IDF officer, is set to speak on January 25, on the theme of “Overcoming Hatred.”
But the press release noted that it would be an all-ticketed event for some 100 UCL students and staff. UCL has also said that the event would not be publicized, out of security concerns. After the Jewish Chronicle picked up on the news and published it, however, UCL apparently felt compelled to release an announcement about the event.
Jewish students from other universities, who attended the 2016 event hosted by the UCLU Friends of Israel society, are upset that they are being barred from returning.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 200 people had signed a petition launched Monday night on change.
org under the banner “#Not- OnOurCampus- Let Hen Mazzig speak to students from across London without disruption.” The petition was started by UCL Friends of Israel Society, the KCL (King’s College) Israel Society and the SOAS Jewish Society.
“Holding an event that prohibits [attendance by] the very minority that was attacked at Mazzig’s 2016 UCL event, and not advertising publicly in fear of a protest, is not ensuring that freedom of speech is upheld,” the petition reads.
“Free speech cannot and should not take place in private or in hiding,” it continues.
“Universities need to be able to counteract protests with a sufficient security presence rather than by restricting the publicity of the events that occur on their campuses and the students who are allowed to attend.”
Pro-Israel organization CAMERA sponsored the event in 2016, and partly funded Mazzig’s expenses this time, too.
“We are shocked that an event that is meant to serve as a symbol for free speech and making amends with the Jewish community is not permitting the student victims of the attack on the event of 2016 to be a part of it,” said Tamara Berens, CAMERA on Campus UK associate and president of the KCL Israel Society.
“To the shame of the university, Hen was escorted out of the event last year in a police coat, and students required dozens of police officers to safely escort them out of the event,” she added.
“UCL wants to show they are standing up for free speech, but preventing the attendance of the victims from last year’s event as part of precautions against another protest shows they are cowing to the anti-Israel demonstrators.”
Following the chaos that broke out the last time Mazzig spoke, which involved violence and intimidation, UCL opened an investigation into the circumstances of the meeting. A report was published last year, including recommendations to prevent future incidents of this kind.
A UCL spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the university is now acting according to those recommendations, which include procedural changes to improve event management.
UCL, the spokesman said, had maintained from the start “that this will be an all-ticket UCL event for UCL students and staff chaired by the university’s provost, rather than a student society-hosted event. We unfortunately feel it is not appropriate to change that, not least that one of the criticisms in the investigation report into the disrupted 2016 event related to late changes being made.”