Students at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, protested on Thursday over an unannounced meeting between their institution’s director and Mark Regev, the new Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Previously the Israeli prime minister’s spokesperson, Regev is a familiar face on television screens where he has often defended military attacks on Palestinians.
He started his new role as ambassador in London on Monday.
On Wednesday, Regev posted on Twitter a photo of himself posing with SOAS director Valerie Amos, after they had had what he termed a “good meeting.”
Dozens of students gathered outside SOAS Thursday chanting: “BDS go! Amos and Regev no!”
A Facebook page set up by protest organizers stated that “by accepting the ambassador’s visit, Valerie Amos and SOAS as an institution are complicit in … ongoing colonialism.”
Students also protested outside Amos’ office, calling for a free Palestine.
A coalition of student societies issued a statement condemning the meeting, saying they considered it “a flagrant violation of the principles of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which the SOAS Students’ Union overwhelmingly voted to support in the largest student referendum ever held at SOAS last year.”
The groups demanded an explanation, and for Amos “to apologize for meeting with Mark Regev … and to accept our invitation to work together on applying the result of the democratic BDS referendum to the university.”
In an emailed response to the student union, Amos said: “I met the Israeli ambassador to follow up on a letter I had sent him about the detention and treatment of a SOAS research student at Ben Gurion airport.” She added that she saw this “as an important part of my responsibility as director.”
But Zeid Shuaib, a Palestinian student at SOAS, told The Electronic Intifada that “this visit has a political message. This is an attempt to undermine BDS, and specifically the SOAS community’s relentless support for BDS.”
An Israeli journalist on a visit to the London embassy recently reported on the “war room”-style map which details “the main campuses, the deployment of pro-Israel activists and the location of the ‘enemy forces.’”
It seems likely SOAS students are considered among such “enemy forces.”
An overwhelming 73 percent voted in favor.
But the coalition of student groups protesting the Regev meeting charged the administration with disregarding the result.
“The student societies that supported the BDS referendum have made effort after effort to engage management to ensure that the governance of the university is kept democratic and have only been met with intimidation and aggression,” the groups said.
While Regev was the Israeli prime minister’s chief spokesperson, he relentlessly justified Israel’s wars to the world’s media, including in the UK.
Whether it was the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, or its repeated “mowing the lawn” massacres in Gaza, Regev was there to excuse Israel’s killing of civilians.
SOAS student Roba Salibi said, “we will continue to mobilize and put pressure on the management to turn our BDS referendum result into actions, and ensure that such an offensive and outrageous act does not happen again.”