Irish university ‘regrets’ Israeli envoy’s talk scrapped

Trinity College Dublin says actions by pro-Palestinian protesters were ‘attack on free speech,’ hopes ambassador will return

Pro-Palestinian protesters force the cancellation of a talk by Israel Ambassador Ze'ev Boker in Dublin's Trinity College, February 20, 2017. (Screen capture: Facebook video)
Pro-Palestinian protesters force the cancellation of a talk by Israel Ambassador Ze'ev Boker in Dublin's Trinity College, February 20, 2017. (Screen capture: Facebook video)

An Irish university on Tuesday said it “regrets” that Israel’s ambassador to Ireland was unable to speak at the school after the scheduled talk was canceled following protests by pro-Palestinian students.

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.

In its statement Tuesday, Trinity College said it views the the protesters’ actions “as an unacceptable attack on free speech. Provost Patrick Prendergast said the protesters violated the university’s core values.

Ze’ev Boker, Israel's ambassador to Ireland. (Courtesy)
Ze’ev Boker, Israel’s ambassador to Ireland. (Courtesy)

“This was most unfortunate and represents the antithesis of what Trinity stands for,” Prendergast said, while adding that “universities should be able to facilitate the exchange of ideas. The protesters have violated that fundamental belief. Trinity will remain a home for debate and we will do everything possible to make sure that efforts to suppress the free exchange of ideas do not succeed.”

“I look forward to welcoming Ambassador Boker back to Trinity to speak again in the near future,” he added.

Following Monday’s protests, Israel’s Foreign Ministry called on the university “to take the appropriate measures to deal with the instigators of last night’s protest,” while also saying “we expect the Irish authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure freedom of speech for Israel’s ambassador.”

The Foreign Ministry said that it was “horrified by the vicious action of a group of protesters,” accusing demonstrators 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.”

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.”

No sign of the Israeli Ambassador yet – well done all! Keep it up!

Posted by Students for Justice in Palestine – Dublin on Monday, February 20, 2017

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.

Ireland has long been viewed by Israel as being strongly pro-Palestinian, and a few weeks ago Boker reportedly informed Jerusalem of Dublin’s possible intentions to soon recognize Palestine as a state. An Israeli official was quoted in a report in the Haaretz Israeli daily at the time as saying an announcement from Dublin on Palestine recognition had already been possible, but Israel’s passage 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.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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