Students defend protest against Israeli ambassador at LSE

British home secretary says she was ‘disgusted’ by the treatment of Tzipi Hotovely, who was jeered after she attended a debate at the London School of Economics.

Israeli ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely was invited by the LSE student union to take part in a debate [File: Menahem Kahana/AFP]

Students who organised a protest against the participation of the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom in a debate have defended the demonstration, as government ministers condemned the incident.

Footage circulating on social media showed Tzipi Hotovely leaving a London School of Economics (LSE) building on Tuesday night with tight police protection as a group of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside.

Hotovely was invited by the LSE student union to take part in a debate on Middle East peace titled “Perspectives on Israel and Palestine”.

Protesters said the ambassador had a track record of anti-Palestinian racism. They shouted pro-Palestinian slogans and chided the ambassador: “Aren’t you ashamed!” They also chanted: “Israel is a terrorist state”.

A statement issued on Wednesday by the student organisers, LSE for Palestine, said the protest was a “tremendous demonstration of solidarity with Palestine”.

“Contrary to false reports, Hotovely did not ‘flee’ the university; students maintained a peaceful protest throughout the evening,” the statement said, which described the Israeli ambassador as a “Nakba denier and anti-Palestinian racist”.

London’s Metropolitan Police said they attended the protest and made no arrests.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss blasted the incident, writing: “The treatment of Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely last night and the attempt to silence her was unacceptable.

“We in Britain believe in freedom of speech,” she added.

British Home Secretary Priti Patel also condemned the incident.

“Disgusted by the treatment of the Israeli Ambassador at LSE last night,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I will continue to do everything possible to keep the Jewish community safe from intimidation, harassment & abuse.

“The police have my full backing in investigating this appalling incident.”

Hotovely said she “will not be intimidated”.

“I will continue to share the Israeli story and hold open dialogue with all parts of British society,” she wrote on Twitter.

‘No room for colonial apologism’

The students’ union debating society had faced a campus backlash over inviting the Israeli envoy.

Student group LSE for accuses Hotovely – a hardliner with links to Israel’s right-wing Likud party and former minister in charge of Jewish settlement expansion in the illegally occupied West Bank – of espousing hate speech and contributing “to the material oppression of Palestinians”.

The group said Hotovely’s invitation was a “direct contradiction” of the LSE student union motion passed in June 2021, which committed “to ensuring that the university is free from discrimination and plays an active role in dismantling systems of oppression at home and abroad” as well as “establish an apartheid-free zone that does not normalise relations with any regime of racism, oppression, and discrimination”.

“There is no room for colonial apologism on our LSE campus,” the group said.

LSE said Tuesday’s debate lasted 90 minutes and Hotovely had spoken, taken audience questions and left on schedule, but that it would be “reviewing the processes around this event to inform future planning”.

“Free speech and freedom of expression underpins everything we do at LSE,” a spokesman said.

“Students, staff and visitors are strongly encouraged to discuss and debate the most pressing issues around the world, but this must be in a mutually respectful manner.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies