Around 400 people turned up at SOAS for a protest against a speaking event with Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador to the UK.
Regev came to international attention and received widespread criticism for his role defending Israeli action during the conflicts in Gaza in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014.
The event was originally organised jointly by the SOAS Jewish Society and the Model United Nations Society but the latter dropped out last week after pressure from its members.
Approximately 60 people attended the Regev event including many members of the press. Only those with an invitation from the SOAS Jewish Society were allowed in with many students, who had tickets, being turned away.
The event also saw a heavy security presence with everyone being searched on the way in. One of the security team quipped, it gave the attendees “the full Gaza experience”.
The discussion, which was hosted by Queen Mary professor Eric Heinze, also gave students the opportunity to ask the ambassador questions.
Protesting against the event LS spoke with Deborah Fink from the campaigning group, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods:
“We felt there needed to be a Jewish voice in support of the protest because the media portrays all Jews as being monolithic in their support of Israel.[Regev] is being allowed to push his propaganda on people, which is a big insult to the students of SOAS, particularly the Palestinian ones, who might have had relatives killed in Gaza, which he was condoning at the time.”
Regarding debate with those who came to SOAS in support of the Regev event
“I don’t know if you’d call them conversations, I think you’d call them slanging matches, where they hurl propaganda at you that I’ve heard millions of times before, when I’ve got a response they don’t want to listen to it. They talk over me or walk off.”
There were many at the protest who came to support the SOAS Jewish Society and the Regev event. LS spoke to one such protester, who wished to remain anonymous, with an Israeli flag draped over their shoulders:
“I’m here because I heard Jewish students at SOAS having problems, feeling intimidated, not feeling like they can put their points of view forward, not even being allowed to debate other students, being shut out of everything basically.”
In regards to debate with the anti-Regev protesters:
“Could you call them debates? I don’t think many of them are willing to debate unfortunately. It seems you try to debate and they won’t even look at you.”
In 2015, the SOAS community voted in favour of endorsing an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. This explicitly rejected the hosting of official representatives of the Israeli state.
“Israel is not going away. Israel is not going anywhere”
An open letter to SOAS director, Valerie Amos, urging an intervention from the university to stop the event was signed by more than 150 academics from across the UK.
The letter accused the organisers of the event of being deliberately “provocative” and expressed fear that “it will cause substantial distress and harm to many of our students and staff who are, have been or will be affected by the actions of what a recent UN report refers to as the Israeli ‘apartheid regime’.”
Ken Loach, English film director and strong critic of the Israeli state, joined the condemnation of the event saying:
“The visit of Mark Regev to SOAS shocks not only the students and staff of the college but all who care for justice.”
The oppression of the Palestinians is a crime against international law and our common humanity. Regev is a propagandist for the oppressor. Shame on SOAS management for this invitation, solidarity with the Palestinians.”
“The event could cause serious tension on campus”
As a message to the protesters, whose chanting could be heard during the event, Regev said: “I would like to tell them a secret: Israel is not going away. Israel is not going anywhere”