A talk at a Dublin university by Israel’s ambassador was canceled following protests by pro-Palestinian students, with Jerusalem calling on Irish authorities to take action against the demonstrators.
Ambassador Ze’ev Boker was due to take part in a conversation with the Society for International Affairs, also known as SOFIA, in Dublin’s Trinity College Monday night.
About 40 pro-Palestinian students holding flags and placards took over the venue, forcing the cancellation of the event after police and university security were unable to move the protesters.
The event was billed as a short talk by the ambassador followed by a question and answer session, against the backdrop of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent talks with US President Donald Trump, according to the Facebook event page.
The Foreign Ministry said that it was “horrified by the vicious action of a group of protesters, which denied the Ambassador of Israel his right to freedom of expression at Trinity College last night.”
The ministry accused the protesters of chanting “genocidal slogans calling for Israel’s destruction, while barring access to the lecture theater,” in apparent reference to the chant “from the river to the sea Palestine must be free.”
“They obviously have no interest in helping efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather wish to ignite and inflame the situation,” the ministry said.
The ministry called on the university “to take the appropriate measures to deal with the instigators of last night’s protest. We expect the Irish authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure freedom of speech for Israel’s ambassador.”
SOFIA head Grace Conway told college website the University Times that the protesters didn’t understand the purpose of the event.
“We are deeply saddened by the student reaction against the event,” she said. “We feel that it was a misunderstanding of what we were trying to do as a society, which was to provide a platform for discourse and we don’t discriminate against any ambassador, we invite all ambassadors and treat the with respect and decorum as diplomats. We don’t discriminate against countries whether or not we support their political beliefs.”
Conway stressed that the event was not intended to show support for Israeli policy.
“SOFIA are a neutral party and we provide a platform of discussion and don’t support or condone and of the behavior of the countries which that ambassadors represent,” she said.
Ciaran O’Hagan, head of the local branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, which had called for the event to be canceled, said the protest was justified.
“The message here is that we respect the human rights of Palestinians even if the Israeli ambassador doesn’t, who has gone on record as saying the siege of Gaza doesn’t exist and justifying and whitewashing the settlement regime,” he told the University Times.
An Irish pro-Israel group called on Trinity College, the school’s student union and the country’s Education Minister Richard Bruton to condemn what it described as intimidation and an attack on free speech.
— (((Irish4Israel))) (@irish4israel) February 20, 2017
A week earlier SOFIA hosted the Turkish ambassador, who spoke on the topic “Foreign Policy.” Irish4Israel head Barry Williams called the protesters hypocritical for protesting Israel’s treatment of Palestinians while ignoring Turkey’s human rights abuses of the Kurdish people, the Irish Times reported.
Two weeks earlier Boker reportedly informed Jerusalem of Dublin’s possible intentions to recognize Palestine as a state soon.
An Israeli official was quoted in a report in the Haaretz Israeli daily Thursday as saying an announcement from Dublin on Palestine recognition had already been possible, but Israel’s passing of a controversial law legalizing wildcat settlements made such a decision far more likely.
The Israeli official reportedly said Boker’s cable recommended a request for assistance from the Trump administration in Washington, as well as having Netanyahu call his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, in order to discourage Dublin from recognizing Palestinian statehood.