Israel’s envoy to visit first UK campus to back anti-Israel boycott

Defying protests by students and professors, Mark Regev set to speak at London’s SOAS, whose students endorsed academic boycott in 2005

Israel's Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, interviewed by the BBC on May 1, 2016 (BBC screenshot)
Israel's Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, interviewed by the BBC on May 1, 2016 (BBC screenshot)

Israel’s ambassador to the UK Mark Regev is slated to visit London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) university on Thursday despite objections and threatened protests from students and staff.

No Israeli diplomat has visited the school since it became the first UK institution to embrace the academic boycott of Israel in 2005.

The ambassador was invited this month by the school’s UN Society and the Jewish Society to speak. He will be interviewed by Eric Heinze, professor of law and humanities at Queen Mary University of London, and will then answer questions.

Regev tweeted that he was looking forward to his talk at SOAS.

His visit has been condemned by the university’s student union, who called the planned talk “a real health and safety risk.”

“The presence on campus of armed security guards on the one hand, and the inability of students and staff – especially Palestinian students – to participate openly in the debate, because of the possible repercussions on their ability to enter Israel/Palestine, concern us especially,” the union posted on Facebook.

The student union expressed concern that students would not be able to freely engage in debate with the ambassador because they would risk being barred entry to Israel.

“Academics and students would not be able to engage freely in debate, given Israel’s latest ‘anti-boycott law’ stipulates that individuals publicly supporting BDS can be denied entry into the country, which can include Palestinians from Jerusalem, a number of whom study here,” it wrote.

SOAS United Against Israeli Apartheid, An amalgam of 40 different student societies, is planning protests against the talk, describing Regev as “the public face of Israeli barbarism.”

“SOAS as a community completely rejects the use of our campus to host such an abhorrent individual to speak on behalf of a state that is enforcing a brutal military occupation, and engaged in forcible population transfer, colonialism and apartheid,” the group posted on Facebook.

“We fear that if this provocative event proceeds as planned, it will cause substantial distress and harm to many of our students and staff who are, have been or will be affected by the actions of what a recent UN report refers to as the Israeli ‘apartheid regime.’”

The group is planning an anti-Israel rally to counter the ambassador’s talk.

In a letter to the vice-chancellor, 150 academics and 40 student groups wrote , “The event could further cause serious tension on campus and result in a charged atmosphere that will be detrimental to the well-being of all faculty, staff and students,” UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

A spokesperson for the university said that student groups have the right to invite speakers, regardless of whether or not the university agrees with their viewpoint.

“We support the right of SOAS student societies to invite speakers and host debates on contentious and difficult issues. What we do not do is thereby endorse or support the views being expressed,” the spokesperson told the Guardian. “We pride ourselves on our diversity and we know that this will sometimes create tensions and disagreements.”

A spokeswoman for the Union of Jewish Students told the Guardian that the group was glad that the talk will take place despite the protests.

“We are pleased to see the Israeli ambassador’s address to Soas J-Soc and UN Society will be going ahead, despite insidious attempts to shut the event down,” she told the Guardian. “It is important that Jewish students are able to host guests with diverse opinions on their campuses without being intimidated, in order to have informed and engaged conversations about Israel and Palestine.”

Regev has visited some 20 universities around Britain since the beginning of the academic year.

Soon after taking up his post in April 2016 Regev declared his intention to speak at SOAS. He met with the university’s vice-chancellor within days of his arrival in the UK, which led to anti-Israel graffiti appearing across campus.

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