As expected, the event that saw prominent Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig appear at University College London didn’t pass without incident, with controversy emanating from the event on several fronts. From the outset, UCL attracted criticism for inviting Mazzig to the campus, especially after his previous visit in October 2016 ended in chaos. Secondly, UCL’s student’s union – who are meant to represent all students – shared an image that has since been criticised as having an Antisemitic tone to it. Other controversy has surrounded UCL for not opening up the event for the public, accusations of ill-mannered chants and other areas of discontent. In this article, we take a look at the last few days.
On Thursday night, prominent Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig appeared at University College London, where he had been invited. His past, which included a stint in the Israeli Defence Force, had drawn significant criticism, with many suggesting he shouldn’t have been invited. Yet UCL rightfully responded by saying his invite was a demonstration of freedom of speech – which is something crucial at any University. Yet given the highly-charged nature of the topics Mazzig would talk about, the event was always likely to cause problems.
Mazzig had previously visited in 2016, with that event being disrupted by protesters, with a riot almost starting. The Police were called in to assist in that event, which ended in Mazzig exiting via Police escort. Mazzig’s visit was again contested by many, with UCL’s Friends of Palestine society fiercely opposing the event. They suggested the event was seeking to “normalise the Israeli Apartheid, occupation, and human rights abuse taking place against Palestinians”. To raise awareness, they created a poster, which was shown in the title picture above.
This poster was subsequently shared by the Student’s Union of UCL, via their Instagram page. The poster featured the tagline ‘War criminal at UCL?’. The picture was later deleted, but has in itself caused controversy – with the Student’s Union meant to be representative of all students. Some found the poster to be Anti-Semitic, which is not something the Student’s Union should be endorsing. A look at the Instagram post is below.
At the event, Mazzig said he supported a ‘two-state solution’, while denying that he had ever ‘killed or hurt’ anyone. Mazzig also praised UCL for their decision to allow him to conduct the talk – calling them ‘brave and honourable’. Mazzig said he understood UCL’s decision to not open the event to the public – this was something that had been criticised by many. Support was garnered by a petition to urge UCL to open up the event, but the petition proved unsuccessful. UCL noted that the event was sold out in any case, despite being open only to staff and students.
The University’s Friends of Palestine society – who as mentioned earlier fiercely opposed Mazzig’s appearance on campus – organised a gathering on the night of the event to stage a protest. There are differing accounts of what happened, though it is believed that the group that gathered engaged in chanting. There have been some suggestions that the chants were ‘Anti-Semitic’. As was the case with UCL inviting Mazzig onto campus however – the Friends of Palestine society have freedom of speech.
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So while the event certainly didn’t pass totally without incident, it ran much more smoothly than in October 2016. Mazzig left via Police escort again, and suggested he would happily return again in the future. Overall, some of the allegations emanating from this event are unfortunate, while it appears some mistakes have been made. Freedom of speech is something crucial on University campuses – this can be applied to both sides in this case.