An event with Arab Israeli Yoseph Haddad titled “Life as an Israeli Arab” hosted by the UCL Israeli Society, the UCL Jewish Society at University College London (UCL) in cooperation with StandWithUs UK, led to a counter-protest with over 200 anti-Israel protesters who openly chanted for violence in the streets of London on Tuesday.
The event, attended by approximately 60 students due to the limited capacity of the room, and under heavy police and security presence, welcomed Yoseph Haddad who shared his story as a minority in Israel and spoke about his experiences in the IDF and the Second Lebanon War, battling Hezbollah. Even with the controversy outside, attendees of the event listened respectfully despite having different opinions, and asked pointed questions during the Q&A.
Students and staff reported that there had been numerous attempts to cancel the event by anti-Israel groups in the week leading up to the lecture, and signs near campus advertised the anti-Israel protest with a “wanted” sign depicting Haddad’s face. Students reported that such maneuvering is common practice on many UK campuses where there are concerted efforts to silence Jewish or pro-Israel speakers and events.
Previously, an event with Palestinian activist Bassem Eid was canceled due to “an error in how the event request was submitted,” according to at least one of the organizers.
At the start of the anti-Israel protest, organizers chanted to “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and marched from the center of campus to Haddad’s lecture, blocking the entrance to the building and preventing attendees from leaving without being guarded by security. At one point, one of the protesters even asked security where the other exits to the building were, creating concern for the safety of Jewish students in attendance.
Flares in the colors of the Palestinian flag were set off as the protesters chanted openly for Intifada and called for UK universities to divest from Israel. Several speakers at the protest, one of whom even identified herself as an employee of the university named Yasmeen, also accused Haddad personally of “war crimes” and being a “terrorist” among other race-based insults, and reiterated repeatedly that Zionism, widely accepted as the movement for Jewish civil rights and self-determination, was something that must be obliterated, along with the State of Israel in its entirety.
One speaker stated explicitly, “We should be calling upon the Arab and Muslim armies to liberate Palestine occupation.”
He continued, “how do we accomplish a free Palestine? What is the true solution? Some may say it's a two-state solution, but how can we accept this? This is our land...we cannot accept a two-state solution…The solution is simple. Military occupation requires military intervention.”
In addition to the chants and calls for violence, anti-Israel protesters were spotted waving photos of Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as cursing at and flipping off journalists present covering the event, despite the fact that the organizers of the anti-Israel demonstration called on the crowd not to engage with anyone outside their group and to conduct themselves peacefully.
Following Haddad’s lecture, he was escorted out by 5 security guards through the back while over 100 protesters remained intended to confront him. The students were also able to exit through the back without incident.
On the protest, Haddad told Ynet, “It’s really sad that in a country like the UK differing perspectives are so demonized and attacked to the point where there is a genuine danger of violence. The situation for the Jewish students on campus, in particular, is a shocking and unacceptable reality.”
Itzik Zarfati, executive director of StandWithUs UK, added, “We are proud to bring the story of Israel to students across the UK. Unfortunately, every day we learn that even in 2023, freedom of expression is not guaranteed – but we are committed to reaching every student wherever they are.”
Haddad stated he was proud that the event went forward despite attempts to sabotage the event and the intimidation tactics targeted at students who are actively bringing different perspectives to campuses in the UK.
“Today was a victory for freedom of speech despite the attempts to shut down conversation and dialogue,” said Haddad.