A demonstration against a pro-Israel event at a prominent British university turned violent Tuesday, as pro-Palestinian activists set off fire alarms, hurled chairs and reportedly assaulted one of the Israel Society organizers.
Police were called to the King’s College, London event where former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon was scheduled to give an address; the British government called the riot “totally unacceptable.”
Protesters reacted to being shut out of the overcrowded conference room where the event was being held, banging on windows, chanting “Free, Free Palestine” and setting off fire alarms across the building, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
No arrests were made. Police say one woman was hit by a protester but there were no injuries.
Esther Endfield, one of the organizers of the event, said on Facebook that she had also been assaulted during the protest.
A student from the London School of Economics who attended the event told the JC that, “The room was ambushed: banging on the windows, waving flags, bashing the door. You could hear screaming. It was really quite frightening inside.”
Britain’s Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson condemned the riots.
“Our universities should be safe spaces for students to expand their minds, and there can be no justification for violent intimidation that curtails free speech,” he said.
The Union of Jewish Students blasted the incident, but stressed that the riots were the behavior of a “loud minority.”
“The KCLSU Israel society were hosting an event about peace and were greeted by violence and intimidation,” the union said. “The fact that the police had to be called by the university in order to protect students from fellow students is a disgrace.”
In a tweet, Baroness Susan Williams, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK’s Department of Communities and Local Government, also condemned the violence.
Appalled to hear reports of violent protests at Kings College Israel Society meeting yesterday. Totally unacceptable
— Susan Williams (@SusanBaroness) January 20, 2016
The Israeli Embassy in London told the Chronicle that the incident was “shocking and shameful.”
The university has launched an investigation into the incident, the paper said.
“Universities create environments in which debate from all sides on issues of political, scientific, moral, ethical and religious significance is possible, and King’s is no exception. The safety of our students, staff and the general public is paramount to us and we are committed to acting as a responsible organization,” the school said in a statement.
“[V]iolent protest is totally unacceptable and that we expect [students] to be tolerant and respectful of others’ views and opinions.”