GLASGOW University has been criticised by an Israeli Embassy spokesman for bowing to intimidation and failing to adequately defend freedom of speech during his recent visit.
Yiftah Curiel, the media spokesman for the London-based Israeli Embassy, was invited by the University’s Europe Society to give a talk to about 60 students but the event was interrupted by two protesters who accused Israel of being a “genocidal” country engaged in “extermination”.
In an article in today’s Scotland on Sunday, Curiel writes: “As they began to physically approach me, the university security asked that we evacuate the room for fear that the situation may become unsafe, and because they were not authorised to remove the disruptors ‘by force’.”
Curiel and the students had to squeeze into the university chaplain’s office. The next day a meeting with the Jewish Society had to be moved to the local synagogue after a recommendation from university security.
Curiel said: “This second meeting was not interrupted but left me no less concerned, with one student explaining she did not feel comfortable revealing her Jewish identity on campus, and another who had been made to feel unwelcome at one of the student societies because she didn’t hold anti-Israeli views.”
As evidence of how such violent language can escalate he referred to reports about an alleged attack on Iona Georgina, an 18-year-old Greek who allegedly had a “burning chemical” poured on her as she sold Israeli cosmetics at a stall in the St Enoch Centre in Glasgow. The company had previously been the subject of non-violent pro-Palestinian protests.
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“Universities need to listen to their students and take a firm stand against extremists who trample freedom of speech, using violent messages that demonise Israel,” Curiel writes. “The political leadership must also send out a clear message that incitement is unacceptable.”
He adds: “I left Glasgow with a nagging feeling that freedom of speech, a cornerstone of academic discourse and British tradition, may somehow not be applicable to Israelis on UK campuses.
“The end result was not intended by the university or the students, but by choosing not to take action against a small number of deliberate disrupters, the university made a choice to bow to intimidation and to prevent the encounter from taking place.”
The Glasgow Guardian, the University’s student newspaper, reported that the protesters included Liam Hainey, Green Party Councillor for Langside and former honorary secretary of Queen Margaret Union who was quoted as saying: “It’s important that where representatives of the Israeli state turn up to justify their brutality against the people of Palestine that there is vocal opposition.”
Israel was condemned by the international community over the conflict in Gaza in the summer which resulted in the deaths of about 2,200 people.
Last night a spokesperson for Glasgow University said: “The University of Glasgow was able to facilitate the visit to its main campus by Mr Yiftah Curiel, press attaché at the Israeli Embassy, arranged at short notice.
“When it became clear that his presentation was likely to be disrupted, an alternative venue was provided which allowed the event to go ahead.”
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