A student who tried to attend a talk held at King’s College London (KCL) for the former head of Israel’s secret police has told The Electronic Intifada that she was assaulted by a pro-Israel King’s student.
Ami Ayalon once led the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal spy agency, which has a long record of torturing and murdering Palestinians, including civilians.
Despite media coverage claiming Tuesday’s talk was disrupted by “violent” pro-Palestinian protesters, students speaking to The Electronic Intifada have given a very different account.
University College London law student Rawand Safi said she was punched on the shoulder by a pro-Israel King’s student after peacefully protesting being denied entry to Ayalon’s talk.
She was clapping and chanting “Free Free Palestine” with the group when a male wearing a KCL lanyard began mocking her and then punched her. Safi reported the man the police, who had turned up soon after.
But they refused to arrest him, taking his word over hers. Press reports say no arrests were made that night.
Safi told The Electronic Intifada in a call that she went along with a group from the Palestine Society of the School of Oriental and African Studies, intending to attend the talk and question Ayalon on his record of torture.
Safi said that the entire group were denied entry to the event by Esther Endfield, the president of KCL’s Israel society. She picked out apparently pro-Israel students over others who’d been waiting to get in, saying “I’m making room for you.”
Despite Endfield’s denial of entry to students who wanted to challenge Ayalon on his record of torture and war crimes (he was also once head of the Israeli navy), she then proceeded to lecture them on how they should have come into the room to ask questions, Safi said.
In a posting to Facebook, Endfield said, “what if KCL Action Palestine would have come to [the] event with questions and challenged the speaker[?]”
Safi also wrote on Facebook about the student who assaulted her.
Students say that it was only after being denied entry to the event that things turned into an impromptu protest.
A member of KCL Action Palestine’s committee told The Electronic Intifada that media accounts of windows being smashed and chairs being thrown were untrue.
The committee member did not want their name published for fear of persecution by college authorities.
In an email sent to all King’s students Thursday, President Edward Byrne said an “urgent investigation of the events around the talk to establish what happened” had been launched. He said “action might need to be taken as a consequence. That investigation will determine whether or not King’s students were involved.”
Alberto Torres of KCL Action Palestine tweeted Friday condemning the university for victimizing students:
The committee member said that KCL Action Palestine had not organized any demonstration and had only wanted to attend the talk to challenge Ayalon on his record of violence. In a briefing immediately beforehand, King’s students had been told by committee members to remain calm and not respond to any provocations.
A statement posted on the KCL Action Palestine blog Tuesday challenged the university for allowing the event to go ahead, asking “why Ami Ayalon was given a platform, taking into consideration the crimes he is accused of.”
It was only after any critical students were denied entry to the talk that the impromptu protest started to take place, both the committee member and Safi said.
Photos and a video posted online shows that fire alarms were set off in the building and some windows were cracked, apparently as a result of students banging on them, demanding to be let in.
Another online video, apparently posted by Endfield, the Israel society president, seems to show that her phone was slapped out of her hand after someone demanded they not be filmed.
Endfield is claiming she was assaulted. The committee member said they did not know who this “member of the public” was but they were not a King’s student. KCL Action Palestine distanced itself Wednesday from some of what went on, issuing a statement “categorically condemn[ing] any aggression that took place at the Israel Society Ami Ayalon event.”
Endfield claimed in her Facebook posting that students were “also being investigated” for “a hate crime” against her. But the King’s statement makes no mention of this, and no arrests were made on the night by police.
Baroness Williams, a minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government tweeted Wednesday condemning the “violent protests.”
Former communities minister Eric Pickles also tweeted condemning the students:
In January 2014, Ayalon wrote an op-ed arguing that it was important to preserve “a clear Jewish majority,” in all the land Israel controls (including the occupied West Bank).
He was head of the Shin Bet between 1995 and 2000, an Israeli spy agency with a long and well-documented history of assassination, torture and other deadly violence against Palestinians and other Arabs.
In August, the Israeli press reported that the Shin Bet is now also responsible for spying on dissident Israelis who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement which aims to hold Israel accountable for its crimes.
Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, this article originally stated that the committee member “did know” the person who had slapped the phone out of Endfield’s hand. This has been corrected to read “did not know.”