Students at the School of African and Oriental Studies (Soas) in central London are set to protest next week against a planned visit by Israeli ambassador Mark Regev.
The university’s Jewish and UN societies have invited Regev to speak at Soas next Thursday. Management have allowed him to speak despite a 75 percent vote in favour of an academic boycott of Israel in a students’ union referendum in 2015.
Students from a wide group of student societies at Soas have put out a statement. It said, “Regev will be speaking at our university as an official representative of the Israeli state, not in a personal capacity.
“He is being given the cover of an academic setting to put forward official state positions on the on-going expansion of illegal settlements, the siege of Gaza, land thefts, and discriminatory laws imposed on Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
It added, “This is not an academic debate, informed by fact and reason, it is an official exercise in state propaganda.”
As spokesperson for Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 2014 Regev defended Israel’s 2014 assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians.
He became Israel’s ambassador to Britain in 2016 with a mission to combat growing support for Palestine and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
In recent weeks university Palestinian societies have faced coordinated and well-organised attempts by pro-Israeli groups to shut down their events. Societies at London universities and around Britain have been smeared with accusations of antisemitism for hosting pro-BDS events.
In one instance the Palestinian society at Uclan university in Preston, Lancashire, was forced to relocate a public meeting on BDS off campus. Uclan management cancelled the meeting without first informing the students after a lobbying campaign by a group calling itself North West Friends of Israel.
Regev’s planned Soas visit is a carefully planned provocation. There is strong support for Palestine at Soas, which was one of the first universities where students voted to endorse BDS.
There were also protests last year after Regev met with Soas director Valerie Amos.
But it has been singled out by pro-Israeli groups because of this, with claims that support for BDS made Soas “unsafe” for Jewish students.
University management have agreed that the Israeli embassy will be in charge of security for the event.
This means Regev will be accompanied by armed guards, and that the embassy will collect details of everyone attending the speaking event.
But students at Soas have promised to go ahead with an Apartheid off Campus event on the day of Regev’s visit.
The students’ statement says the event will be “a day where the Soas community will celebrate its diversity and struggles with teach-outs on resistance movements, the situation in Palestine and their relevance in the UK today”.
They called on everyone who believes in “justice for the Palestinian people” to join them on campus.