Jewish community responds to UCL report on October disturbances

Joint statement from The Board of Deputies of British Jews, Community Security Trust, Jewish Leadership Council and the Union of Jewish Students

On 27 October 2016 there was a serious disturbance on the campus at University College London when pro-Palestinian demonstrators, most of whom were students, mounted an aggressive and intimidating protest at a meeting organised by UCL’s Friends of Israel Society.  In scenes which were shocking at a British university, the demonstrators attempted to shut down the meeting and unleashed a torrent of hatred and abuse at those who wished to attend it.  The university’s security force was unable to contain the demonstrators and the police had to be called.  Despite the presence of the police and security staff the disturbances continued and the meeting was heavily disrupted.  On the advice of UCL’s security team the speaker, Hen Mazzig, was forced to leave the campus dressed as a security guard in order to protect him from the threat of violence.

The violent scenes at one of the UK’s major universities caused outrage within the Jewish and wider community.  The President of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, called on UCL to mount a rigorous and credible investigation into the events and UCL Provost Professor Michael Arthur quickly accepted that an inquiry was called for.  He appointed Professor Geraint Rees, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences to report on the events and make recommendations.

Professor Rees’ Report was published yesterday:

Following the publication of the Report Jewish community leaders met the UCL Provost to discuss its contents and their implications.  The delegation, led by Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush, and including representatives from the Union of Jewish Students, Jewish Leadership Council, University Jewish Chaplaincy, the Community Security Trust and the Co-Presidents of the UCL Friends of Israel Society, issued the following statement.

“This was a follow up to the meeting that took place immediately after the disturbances where we relayed our strong concerns to UCL’s senior leadership team about its preparedness and response to the protests.

“We commend Professor Rees and UCL for a report that is thorough, detailed and balanced.  We note that it recognises that UCL failed to protect freedom of speech and accepts that changes are needed to safeguard students.

“The report found that there was a deliberate and concerted effort to disrupt freedom of speech by student activists at London universities.

“The Report identified five students at UCL who should be referred for disciplinary action as a result of their role in the events of the night of 27 October.

“The Report makes far-reaching recommendations to strengthen procedures to guard against a repetition of such incidents in the future.

“The intimidation and disruption at a British university was deeply concerning, not least as it was the second such disturbance in a year that was aimed at suppressing a meeting held by a Friends of Israel society.  This report is a warning to anyone considering indulging in such activity in the future.  Attempting to close down free speech is completely unacceptable.  All universities in the UK need to be on their guard at the growing tendency of the pro-Palestinian lobby to shut down events which they do not agree with – this is a real threat in their midst and it must be quickly and effectively contained.

“We will continue to meet with universities, Universities UK and the Government to ensure the security and wellbeing of our students at university.”

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