Israeli deputy ambassador to the UK Alon Roth-Snir was forced to abandon a talk at the University of Essex today after angry International Relations students voiced opposition to his presence.
Students said that Roth-Snir had been due to speak to a selected group in the Government Department, but was forced by protesters in the room to abandon his talk after only five minutes.
Nathan Bolton, the president of the Students’ Union, told The Electronic Intifada that a protest outside was attended by around 200-250 students, despite being organized with only two days notice.
An additional 20-30 students who had been issued with invitations disrupted the deputy ambassador’s talk inside the hall.
One member of staff present in the room told me that Roth-Snir had just started saying hello and thank you when he was interrupted by a student protesting: “we are not here to be brainwashed.”
The staff member told me students were “passionate and very measured.”
A Palestinian member of the Palestine solidarity society told me that the room was “90 percent pro-Palestine.” Students read from a prepared statement, calling Roth-Snir a war criminal.
Other students chimed in, all the while explaining why they were opposed to the presence of a representative of a human rights abuser like Israel on campus.
Bolton says that police were called and Roth-Snir was “rushed away” by security guards.
A further attempt to give his talk on “The state and terrorism” to an even smaller group of students also had to be abandoned after 10 minutes.
The deputy ambassador reportedly invited the smaller group to the embassy, but few wanted to give their names.
He then had to leave campus in his embassy car.
Bolton said the talk was the initiative of the Israeli embassy itself and had been hosted by Thomas Scotto, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School.
Scotto allegedly threatened students in the room with punishment over the disruption, leaving some students reluctant to let their names appear in public.
The professor of government is now “quite a pariah” within the department according to Bolton, and other faculty members had been against the visit. Students were only told about the visit on Monday, said Bolton.
The Palestinian student said that six or seven lecturers had put up “Not Wanted” posters of Roth-Snir on their office doors.
The Electronic Intifada has seen an email to students from one member of the department stating “the Government Department did not invite the speaker.”
In a statement posted on Facebook quoting student union policy, Bolton explained the students’ opposition to Roth-Snir’s presence on campus:
Israel in its complete disregard of the human rights of the Palestinians and in its illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is in breach of over 30 UN resolutions…
the invitation of a representative of the state of Israel calls into question the ethical practices of the University as an institution and I feel, with the passage of time will reflect badly on the University. My question is – would we have invited a representative of the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s?
We should be proud that University of Essex Students’ Union has policy to boycott Israeli goods and also to be part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), but policy alone is not enough.
Scotto could not be reached by phone. He replied to an emailed request for comment saying he was “not yet in possession of all the facts,” referring me onto the communications department.
University of Essex Head of Communications Jenny Grinter said it was “a noisy but peaceful protest” and there had been no arrests.
She confirmed that the “event did not follow the original program because of disruption caused by students protesting … it is disappointing that some students prevented those wishing to engage in this way from being able to do so more fully.”
This Israeli strategy of trying to “explain” away war crimes to increasingly unreceptive student audiences has a precedent.
“Brand Israel” was not welcome today at Essex University, it seems.
Update, 22 February:
The above A video was uploaded to YouTube last night and shows the student action that led to the abandonment of the Israeli deputy ambassador’s Essex University talk on Thursday.
It shows vocal opposition to the university’s hosting of Alon Roth-Snir, with many in the room chanting slogans like “free, free Palestine” and “shame on you.” The centerpiece of the action was one student repeatedly reading from a prepared statement to effectively filibuster the event.
It also shows (at 04:36) departmental host Thomas Scotto approaching the students, promising repercussions: “I know about five of you. If you continue, you will be brought up on charges against university ordinances which prohibit disruption of a lecture.”
Campus security enter, and soon after a minority (who had countered the protest with chants of “let him speak”) walk out with the deputy ambassador, as his address is abandoned.
Update, 5 March
This video from inside the lecture has since been removed from public viewing, likely because of threats made by the university last week to “discipline” students involved (in an internal email, copies of which I have seen).