In the recent UCL Friends of Palestine event, held on a Friday night, Israeli-born Miko Peled compared Zionists to Nazis. Alongside him, prominent Hamas supporter, Azzam Tamimi, defended Palestinian terrorism, stating:” Of course they will rebel, they will fight”.
It is simply unacceptable that a man who has voiced anti-Semitic views and an academic associated with terrorism directed against Jewish people are allowed to speak on a Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, depriving the vast majority of Jewish students of the opportunity to challenge hatred likely directed against them.
Azzam Tamimi, a man who has openly admitted his political association with the terrorist group Hamas, has previously said “I take pride in being a terrorist”, expressing support of suicide bombings in Israel he described “if I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself, I would do it.”
Miko Peled, the son of an Israeli army general who now lives in America, provoked outrage at the Labour Party Conference in September when called for free speech to “discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no”. Peled has also previously tweeted that “Jews have reputation 4being [sic] sleazy thieves.”
— Miko Peled, (@mikopeled) September 14, 2016
Despite a petition of hundreds of students, highlighting the inflammatory language of the speakers and the date and format which prevented their views being challenged by Jewish students, the event went ahead.
A central idea of freedom of speech is the right to be able to challenge ideas we do not agree with.
The concept of freedom of speech should not be cynically manipulated to purposefully intimidate minority groups on campus. As students, we value and cherish the liberal history of UCL university – but Peled’s and Tamimi’s unchallenged presence at our university violated the essence of freedom of speech, in addition to UCL’s own regulations.
By permitting the event to proceed on the scheduled date, UCL gave freedom to one group – but deprived it of another group, which has real reason to fear for its welfare.
During the event, when a student asked about Mr. Tamimi’s expressed support of suicide bombings, the audience members began to shout in outrage, saying “shut your mouth”, while the security staff started converging on her. When Mr. Peled decided to address the issue: “I’m not going to tell [Palestinians] how they need to respond. The expectation that Palestinians will not respond with violence is absurd. ‘Is it right or is it wrong?’ is not the question.” This was greeted by loud applause and shouts of ‘preach’ by the audience.
The conflict becomes more polarizing and the possibility of peace moves further and further away when universities reinforce the deeply disturbing trend of permitting anti-Semitic and extremist speakers to influence students on British campuses, thereby putting Jewish students at risk.
What can the university do? If freedom of speech is to be upheld, the date and format of events with controversial speakers such as Peled and Tamimi must be amended to allow students the opportunity to challenge what we strongly consider to be racism and bigotry of the worst kind.
However, real progress can only be achieved when the university stops trying to keep the lid on a brimming pot and instead takes a more active role in the debate. Between both sides, there is a difficult dialogue that is long overdue, in which the university should be the mediator and not the pacifier. Students should not let the fear, anger or distress overwhelm them into permanent silence. By listening to each other’s stories, sharing our thoughts we have so much to gain and very little to lose. The university should be aspiring to facilitate conversation, constructive debate, and tolerance on their campus, instead of trying to appease all those involved and allowing more anger and frustration to seep into their student body.
Contributed by president of CAMERA-supported group UCL Friends of Israel and University College London CAMERA Fellow Alex Taic.