Socialist Worker

Hundreds protest against Israeli ambassador Mark Regev at Soas

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2552

Hundreds protested against Mark Regev at Soas

Hundreds protested against Mark Regev at Soas (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Hundreds of students and other pro-Palestinians protested outside the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) yesterday evening, Thursday, as Israeli ambassador Mark Regev spoke inside.

They were rallying in defiance of an attempt by pro-Israeli organisations to provoke and intimidate Palestine solidarity activists.

Soas' Jewish and United Nations societies had invited Regev. The invite came as Palestinian societies at universities across Britain face attempts to shut down their events.

But around 400 people rallied on the steps outside Soas' main building in central London chanting and cheering loudly, and waving Palestinian flags.

And a wide range of student societies signed a statement against the visit.

Speaking to the protest Soas student union co-president Ali said, "It warms our hearts to see the Soas community here today.

"We do not accept Mark Regev on this campus."

Regev became Israel's ambassador to Britain last year with a mission to clamp down on growing support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Before that he was spokesperson for Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

It was Regev's job to defend Israel's 2014 assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 2,000 Palestinians.

NUS black students officer Aadam Muuse told the protest, "Regev is a propagandist. He is an apologist for the crimes of the Israeli state.

"Some people will say that we are the enemies of free speech, that we are the enemies of academic freedom. But we are standing up for the academics of this institution who are standing with the Palestinians in their struggle".

Regev's visit was a carefully planned provocation. There is strong support for Palestinians at Soas, which was one of the first universities where students and workers voted to support the BDS movement.

Soas management agreed that the Israeli embassy would be in charge of security for the event. It meant that Regev was accompanied by armed embassy guards.

Security

A small pro-Israel group also turned up on campus to try and disrupt the protest. They were accompanied by "observers" wearing high-vis jackets and body-worn video cameras, as well as people who appeared to be plain-clothes security officers.

People from the group waved Israeli flags and placards in protesters' faces and played loud music over the speeches.

But the protesters ignored them and drowned them out with chants of, "Palestine will be free". They also danced a traditional Palestinian dabke dance as the pro-Israeli group became more aggressive and confrontational.

Soas student Antonia told the protest, "These people have come here to provoke us. But we're not going to have that.

"We're loud and there's many of us."

Soas workers also spoke at the protest. Tom Armstrong from the UCU union said, "It has come as a huge and unacceptable shock to our members that this speech has gone ahead.

"This provocation is not acceptable, not only because of our commitment to the Palestinian cause but also because of the police and security on campus. This should never have happened."

And Sandy Nicol from the Unison union said, "We voted for BDS in this college. We will always stand alongside the Palestinians and their supporters on this campus, and we uphold BDS."

The protest at Soas showed how to defy those who want to shut down solidarity with the Palestinians.

 


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