Cambridge students disrupt Israel’s racist ambassador

A crowd of protesters with flags

Student organizers thanked protesters for their support. (Cambridge PalSoc)

Students protested against Israeli ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely outside the elite Cambridge Union on Tuesday.

They waved flags and signs and chanted slogans including the common Palestinian motto, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”

Students told The Electronic Intifada that their protest outside the building was so loud that it had disrupted Hotovely’s speech, causing it to start late and leaving organizers “visibly distressed.”

One student said that Cambridge Union had come close to postponing Hotovely’s talk.

Website Middle East Eye and right-wing paper The Daily Mail both reported that the protesters had successfully cut short Hotovely’s speech.

In a statement, Cambridge Palestine Solidarity Society accused Cambridge Union of “whitewashing apartheid.”

Despite its name, Cambridge Union is a private members’ club “debating society” with membership fees starting at $155. It claims to have been “defending free speech since 1815.”

But Tuesday’s event was not a debate.

Hotovely spoke for under 15 minutes before a discussion with the president followed for a further 25 minutes, with audience members being called on to ask her questions for another 20 minutes after that.

Unlike most other such guest speakers, Hotovely’s appearance was conspicuously absent from Cambridge Union’s website and social media.

An audio recording obtained by The Electronic Intifada shows that the president opened the event by saying, “I must ask you that you don’t use your phones, for photos or video recording, otherwise we’ll have to ask you to leave.” He promised a video would be available “in due course.”

The audio recording also shows that the protesters’ chants, noise and music were audible in the venue throughout the night.

Cambridge Union did not reply to requests for comment via Twitter and email. Student newspaper Varsity claimed the delay to the start of the speech was due to “audiovisual issues not noise from outside.”

An anti-Palestinian extremist, Hotovely arrived in the UK in October 2020. As Israel’s first settlements minister, she backed some of the occupied West Bank’s most violent Jewish colonists.

Organizers of the student protest said they had opposed Hotovely due to her denial of the Nakba – Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine – as an “Arab lie,” support for the settlements and opposition to Jewish people who marry non-Jews.

The Palestine society emphasized that “the protest was peaceful throughout,” and there have been no claims to the contrary.

In November, government ministers attacked students at the London School of Economics after they protested a similar event starring Hotovely.

Both the Tory government and the Labour opposition falsely claimed that Hotovely had been “silenced” and implied she had been attacked by anti-Semites.

There were shrill cries in the corporate media against the protest, but virtual silence the following month when it emerged that the university had investigated the protest and exonerated the students.

“We see no evidence whatsoever of protesters having broken the law at last week’s event and no further action is being considered,” the university conceded.

Home affairs minister Priti Patel – who is allegedly “compromised” by her secret dealings with Israel – had called for a police investigation.

Pro-Israel users on Twitter this week defended Hotovely and attacked the protesters.

Israeli propaganda group HonestReporting implied ahead of the event there could be “violence” from the protesters. HonestReporting was for years led by former Israeli army spokesperson Simon Plosker.

Pro-Israel journalist and former student activist Sabrina Miller turned up at the protest apparently in the company of two counter-protesters who were wielding an Israeli flag.

She called the evening a “win” for Hotovely.

Anti-Palestinian Twitter user “Terror Alarm” called the students “the university’s pro-terrorist society.”

Anti-Palestinian newspaper The Jewish Chronicle called for government “action” against the protesters for chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.”

But the National Union of Students and the University and College Union on Thursday backed the slogan.

In a joint statement, they said that “this chant is one used widely by Palestinians” and condemned education minister Nadhim Zahawi for recent comments to the press that protesters should be investigated by police for using it.




Free speech in the Cambridge Union? Free speech implies anyone can join in, hardly possible in such an elite institution which still admits most of its students from fee-paying schools; and then the elite within the elite is the union; students from modest backgrounds might find the fee a barrier. As Orwell remarked, if freedom means anything it is the right to say what people don't want to hear and what Hotovely, the Israeli State, the BoD, the CST, Margaret Hodge and the rest don't want to hear is that Israel is an apartheid regime. I wonder how they will respond to Amnesty's latest, excellent campaign.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).