OPINION – Hen Mazzig: Universities must celebrate rather than silence debate

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OPINION – Hen Mazzig: Universities must celebrate rather than silence debate

Israeli writer, speaker and activist says UCL should take appropriate security measures to counteract violent protest rather then attempting to silence it

Hen Mazzig is a former lieutenant in the Coordination of Government Activities in the Terrorities. He shares his story with campuses and Jewish communities around the world.

Hen Mazzig
Hen Mazzig

October 2016, University College London (UCL), I’m rushed out of the school in a “London Police” coat, escorted by police officers, as 150 protestors are rioting outside the venue where I had been due to speak. The event was hosted by CAMERA on Campus UK (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting). 

There are horrific images and videos from that night, when a violent mob blocked me and my audience in a room, broke through the windows to get in, and attempted to shut down my event.

Various groups supported this violent mob and labelled me a genocidal war criminal.

The UCL Friends of Palestine Society claim to have participated in the organisation of this violent protest owing to my service in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), which they describe as “an army of war criminals”.

In reality, my service in the COGAT unit revolved around humanitarian co-operation with the Palestinians.

Recognising the discrimination that took place during my last visit, the UCL administration has invited me back to the campus to speak to the Provost, students and faculty, later this month.

While I applaud UCL for this brave step, I do, however, note that the attendance has been restricted to UCL students and staff, ignoring the fact that the majority of those wishing to attend are members of the Jewish student community, which spans multiple universities across London.

Demonstrators disrupting an event with Israeli speaker Hen Mazzig at UCL campus.

Prohibiting the attendance of the very minority that was attacked during my 2016 UCL event, and limiting public advertising in fear of protest, is inherently impeding freedom of speech.

Free speech is not free if it must be hidden. Universities must celebrate and facilitate discourse and, if necessary, should take appropriate security measures to counteract violent protest rather then attempting to silence it.

 Jewish speakers should not have to hide their identities or location for fear of protests or, worse, violence.

UCL is responsible for ensuring that instigators are restrained, and speakers and audiences can engage in discourse safely.

Police entering UCL, where the protesters disrupted the pro-Israel event with Hen Mazzig

The UCL Friends of Palestine Society frequently hosts events that are open to all students, despite the deeply controversial nature of some of their speakers. The same should be true for Israeli speakers. There is no excuse.

The same group that shut down my freedom of speech in 2016 has once again publicly discriminated against me. Again they cite my nationality and my IDF service as the reasons against giving me a platform to speak.

Little do they know that my role was responsible for saving lives and building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. Meanwhile, the UCL Friends of Palestine Society continues to claim that I’m a war criminal.

Pro-Israel students hold up a flag as anti-Israel demonstrators attempt to disrupt the event in October 2016

 Three Jewish student groups created a petition, #NotOnOurCampus, urging UCL to oppose discrimination and ensure that I will be able to share my story and engage in dialogue without violent disruption.

Much of this op-ed is based on their ideas as I come to support these students and I hope that you will, too.

 This event should serve as a strong message that the Jewish community will not be abused – not in the streets and not  in universities.

We will not cave in to hatred. We have learned the lesson from our past. No matter how rainy it’s going to be in London in two weeks, I will be at UCL and I will share my story and that of my country.

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