The ninth annual Israeli Apartheid Week began in the UK on 25 February, and campuses across the country were hives of activity as students held various events to educate people about Palestine.
Israeli diplomats in the UK have also gone on a propaganda offensive, seeking to turn back a popular tide of criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, war crimes and apartheid.
In recent weeks, the Israeli embassy in London dispatched various diplomats, including the ambassador Daniel Taub, to various campuses to explain to students why they are supposedly so mistaken and how there is in fact no such thing as Israeli apartheid.
But opposition from students has meant these events are usually held under a veil of secrecy. Fear of protest often restricts these events to select audiences, with some being prevented altogether.
The week before Israeli Apartheid Week, Essex University students held protests outside and inside an attempted lecture by deputy ambassador Alon Roth-Snir.
Roth-Snir had said little more than “hello” before students in the invite-only audience stood up and started reading from a prepared statement, filibustering his talk. As I reported at the time, the lecture was soon abandoned, and Roth-Snir ultimately left campus with his tail between his legs.
Last week the university’s Vice-Chancellor Anthony Forster sent an email to all staff and students, seen by The Electronic Intifada. In it he threatened “an investigation into potential breaches of the University’s Disciplinary Regulations” over the protests of students against the aborted lecture.
He also wrote that the university would ask the the Students’ Union if it considered whether the actions breached their Code of Conduct.
Student Union President Nathan Bolton soon hit back. “It is not up to the University to define legitimate protest when we face a representative of a state who commits crimes every day,” he responded on Facebook.
He also demanded that no disciplinary action be taken against the students, and for full disclosure over how the event was organized.
At least one member of the university department that hosted Roth-Snir has denied to students that they invited the Israeli representative.
Students have told me they think that the Israeli embassy effectively invited themselves and that many staff in the department were opposed to his talk.
Mossad-linked “security” charity stalks London campus
Meanwhile, over at the London School of Economics, the supposedly apolitical anti-Semitism watchdog the Community Security Trust (CST) was called onto campus to support pro-Israel student activity to combat Israeli Apartheid Week last week.
The campus Palestine society planned a stall for Tuesday, but moved it to Thursday after the Israel society announced it would set up a “Peace Tent” nearby, accompanied by CST security guards.
Israeli society president Carl Loof told student paper The Beaver that the CST’s presence was “an unfortunate but warranted need.”
This is extreme chutzpah considering that it was members of his society that attacked a Palestine society-organized street theater at Israeli Apartheid Week last year.
The Beaver report states that:
a series of meetings were held between the organisers as well as the Dean, the Chaplain and certain Sabbatical officers. According to [Palestine society president Anisa] Ahmed, all the members of the meeting were opposed to external security being brought in by the Israel Society, but there was very little that the university could do as Houghton Street is a public thoroughfare.
(As an inner-city university, LSE is spread across parts of London rather than having a clearly-delineated campus.)
As I’ve written numerous times here at The Electronic Intifada, the CST is known to receive training from the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency. It’s no wonder students involved in Palestine solidarity activism found their presence a provocation.
This is the first time CST security guards have been called to a campus, to my knowledge.
Israeli ambassador to UK in secret Irish visit
Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub seems to have made a secretive visit to a selected audience at Queens University Belfast in the north of Ireland last month.
According to Gary Spedding, vice president of the university’s Palestine Solidarity Society:
On Tuesday 19th February 2013 the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, H.E. Daniel Taub visited our University as part of his trip to Northern Ireland where he met with university officials and according to information our society has received was also able to address a hand-picked number of students and staff in the School of Politics.
Spedding wrote this a few days later in a letter addressed to the student union, seen by The Electronic Intifada. He added:
A student who contacted us has passed on information and accusations that we would request the Students’ Union investigate at the earliest possible opportunity. We are concerned by how under-the-radar this talk has been kept and organised.
Unlike Essex university students, Spedding says in the letter he does not oppose Taub’s presence on campus entirely:
our preferred channel of discourse is to be permitted a voice (something we view as a democratic right) in order to challenge, through the use of polite and progressive engagement, any political officials that visit our academic institution.
One example of the society’s work is how it lobbied the Northern Ireland Assembly to establish a boycott of products from Israeli settlements last week.
Spedding told me today over email that he has so far received no reply from the university or the union to his letter. The Israeli embassy and the university seem to have nothing on their websites about the visit.
The university’s communications department did not return an email asking for comment, and its out-of-hours mobile number went straight to voicemail.
Update, 11 March: The university replied tersely to my email this afternoon to confirm that “a private meeting” did indeed take place at Queens University Belfast.
Why does the Israeli embassy feel the need for such secrecy?
It’s a growing pattern. Essex students told me how Roth-Snir’s visit was only announced at the last minute. In fact, pro-Israel groups in general often leave the location of their events in London deliberately vague (“central London venue”) to avoid protests outside or dissenters inside.
In its propaganda, Israel likes to talk about “dialogue” but this is to take place only on its own terms, it seems.
Taub is due to speak at Cambridge Union Society next week.