UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Free Speech secured at Kings College London

On 4 March, Colonel Eli Bar-On, an instructor at the Israeli National Defence College and previously the Deputy Military Advocate General of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), gave a talk to around 70 students at Kings College London (KCL) on “Does the Israeli Army ignore International Humanitarian Law?”  Given the previous riots at talks by Israelis at Kings College London and UCL, the fact that the talk went ahead successfully is in itself noteworthy.

The talk was hosted by KCL Israel Society and UCL Friends of Israel Society, and arranged by the organisations “Our Soldiers Speak” and CAMERA on Campus.

UK Lawyers for Israel has worked closely with KCL Israel Society over the last year to improve the situation at KCL, in particular insisting that KCL must comply with its legal obligation to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech is secured for visiting speakers. KCL management have taken on board many of our points and we are delighted to report that they made a major and successful commitment to ensuring that this event went ahead and was not disrupted.

There were protestors outside the venue, and they did cause some problems by obstructing and intimidating students trying to get in, but they did not prevent the speaker from being heard, and students who wanted to enter the event were able to get in.

We received the following report: “While audible, the protest was background noise and didn’t interfere with the speaker. Apart from one audience member who wouldn’t stop speaking in the q&a session until the audience shamed her, there were no disturbances in the hall.  The picket was intimidating and prevented a few students from entering though the main doors. They had to be taken round the back by security. It subsequently worsened and some students in the meeting complained of having been pushed and shoved by the protesters.”

Simon Moos, President of KCL Israel Society, has written to KCL’s management: “I want to sincerely thank you all for everything you have done.  From security to bookings, the event was perfect, the turnout was good, no disruption arose and everyone managed to leave the entrance safely. That was achieved by the effort and kind help of everyone. I know that this event required a lot of time and energy from everyone and for that I am incredibly grateful. I could not be more happy with how the event went.”

While acknowledging the successful efforts of KCL staff to ensure that the event was not disrupted, further consideration should be given to achieving the correct balance between allowing protests and ensuring that students who wish to attend meetings are not subjected to intimidation or physical obstruction. Allowing protests on the steps at the entrance to the building does not seem to get that balance quite right.

Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI, said: “We welcome the major improvements that have been made and recognise the considerable efforts of KCL staff to secure this event. It is very important to ensure that Israeli speakers have the opportunity to address the mendacious propaganda against Israel that is so pervasive on and off campus. We will continue our work to ensure that disruption of meetings with Israeli speakers at KCL and other universities is prevented and deterred.”