'Secretive' campus meetings undermine the cause of peace and constructive debate

A meeting last night at the School of Oriental and African Studies was marred by the abuse and bullying of a Jewish audience member

A photo from the event last night, "Register, I am Palestinian"
Richard Millett
On 15 May 2012 08:41

When I went to last night’s Palestine Society event at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the audience was greeted with the image above when we entered the Khalili Lecture Theatre.

Before journalist Abdel Bari Atwan or Oxford University’s Dr. Karma Nebulsi spoke, we were shown a film. Here is the eight seconds I was able to film before I felt some sharp prods in my shoulder. I was being ordered to stop filming. (A peculiar though not uncommon request at such meetings where the speakers and audience would ostensibly not have a public record of what they have to say. This trend has also been reflected previously at an Abdel Bari Atwan meeting, where the society hosting decided to selectively cut their video posted online.)

A man in front of me who insisted I stopped filming remarked, “You’re a typical Israeli, you know that?" This confused me, as I am not an Israeli, I am British. The interchangeability between 'Jewish' and 'Israeli' has again been a theme of previous Atwan events, when British Jewish students at the London School of Economics were called 'Nazis' (an anti-Semitic slur often lobbed at Israeli citizen or soldiers) and were personally accused of bombing Gaza.

Next I was told to stop filming and recording by the chairperson before a rather large chap who had subsequently seated himself in front of me got up, turned around and tried to grab my camera. He then decided that my personal property was fair game and picked up my belongings and left the lecture theatre in a bid to make me follow him as the audience continued to attempt to intimidate me. 

In the act of snatching the rucksack my phone, glasses case, pens and voice recorder were strewn across the floor and under the seats. This disregard for individuals' private property and the attempts to use such methods to scare me off were clearly more frustrating and disrupting than it would have been to allow me to continue to film quietly.

The audience started to taunt me and slow hand clap. Abdel Bari Atwan remained silent throughout while Dr. Nebulsi had the nerve to accuse me of being the disruptive one. Bizarrely, she offered to escort me outside to retrieve my rucksack but I refused to leave until my belongings were returned. At no stage did anyone in the 40 strong audience come to my defence in any way:

Eventually, university security retrieved my rucksack and, surprisingly, my coat, which must have been removed by someone from behind me while I wasn’t looking. This was particularly worrying for me as my keys were in my coat. I am still aghast at the things some people will do to ensure their views are not publicised. I wonder what was said or endorsed at the event after I had left:

I did eventually leave after my coat and rucksack had been returned and after I had managed to retrieve most of my belongings from the floor. At this point I was too shaken to stick around. I hope that lessons can be learned from such events and that the university will take action to ensure things like this do not continue, in the interest of free and fair debate.

Richard Millett is a freelance journalist, blogger and non-practising solicitor. You can read his blog here.

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