Palestine solidarity activists disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador at the University of Graz in Austria on 19 October.
This video of the protest was published by BDS Austria, an activist group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
Soon after the ambassador, Talya Lador-Fresher, begins to speak, BDS Austria’s Marco Van Jura stands up and says, “I’m not sorry for interrupting you, but you are a representative of the Israeli apartheid regime.”
Van Jura calls it a “shame on this university and this country” that an Israeli official is being given the “red carpet” treatment.
“What I’m showing you here now is the report of the United Nations blaming Israel [for] racist apartheid policies and crimes against humanity,” Van Jura says as he waves a sheaf of papers.
This is a reference to the landmark report published by a UN agency in March that found that Israel operates a system of apartheid over the entire Palestinian people, including using “demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel.”
After Van Jura is escorted out by police, another BDS Austria member stands up and makes statements condemning Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. “I can’t tolerate this injustice anymore,” she says.
This prompts an Islamophobic outburst from another member of the audience, who cries, “Be quiet! These liberal Muslims are everywhere” and “you represent political Islam.”
The protester, who is wearing a headscarf, is roughly led out by officials.
There has been a wave of Islamophobia in Austria in recent years, in particular the passage of a “burqa ban” law targeting Muslim women.
At the country’s general election last week, the anti-Muslim, pro-Israel far-right Freedom Party won enough seats to join the next government.
The third protester heard in the video – activist Ronnie Barkan – addresses the ambassador in Hebrew and English, calling her “an illegitimate representative of an apartheid regime.”
Barkan too is forced out of the room as he speaks about the UN report.
“Talya should have known better [than to come to the university] after the disruption of minister Shaked,” Barkan calls out to the ambassador.
In February, BDS Austria activists disrupted an appearance at the University of Vienna by Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister who in 2014 published a call for genocide of the Palestinian people, including the slaughter of mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”
A fourth protester addresses the ambassador, reminding her that Palestinian students are frequently unable to travel abroad to universities like Graz because of Israeli restrictions and abuses. He too is forced out of the room.
Repression and ostracism
As in other European countries, Palestine solidarity activists in Austria face official ostracism and have seen events on Palestinian human rights canceled due to pressure from the country’s Israel lobby.
The resolution urges that the movement not be given space and support on campuses.
It also endorses the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.
“We won’t be intimidated”
A primary tactic of Israel and its lobby groups has been to urge institutions and governments to adopt the contested IHRA definition which misleadingly includes criticism of Israel and its Zionist state ideology as forms of anti-Semitism.
BDS Austria’s Van Jura told The Electronic Intifada that his group will not be deterred by the efforts to silence support for Palestinian rights.
On 24 October, he and fellow activists will set up a BDS information table at the University of Vienna, to “show that we won’t be intimidated.”
Van Jura said that his group would welcome an opportunity to talk to members of the student union who smeared them as anti-Semites and that he hopes activists will be able to reach out to open-minded students on campus.