Ed Byrne, the Principal of King’s College, London, has told a Board of Deputies meeting in London how he has worked to sort out problems which caused disruption at an event addressed by former Israeli minister Dan Meridor last year.
Professor Byrne said: “We’ve been working closely with the Jewish Society and the Board of Deputies and others for over a year now, triggered by a regrettable event where Dan Meridor spoke and was heavily protested. We’ve learned a lot and are implementing these things.”
He added: “Management of these events has been overhauled, we’ve implemented new processes with greatly improved oversight, greatly improved risk mitigation, with the whole aim of ensuring respectful free speech. We’re not preventing peaceful protest; that’s allowable in universities, but we’re making sure that the peaceful protest does not interfere with the events.”
Professor Byrne said that King’s, like all universities, should be places “where bridge are built and where people speak to each other”. He said he had developed strong personal and academic links with the Haifa Technion, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann institute. “They’re not just words, we have people coming backwards and forwards, we have joint educational and research programmes. I’m especially pleased with a whole range of new medical research programmes we’re just launching with the Technion. Our collaborations reflect not only the positive relationship King’s has with Israeli universities and with Israel generally, but also my passionate belief that academic relationships with Israel are essential and non-negotiable; they’re part of our DNA at King’s, and I believe they should be part of every university’s DNA.”
In a reply to Deputy Susan Pascoe, Professor Byrne reiterated his opposition to Israel Apartheid Week, saying, “I totally abhor it. I think it’s completely inappropriate,” adding “I will continue to make it very clear at the university level that we have no toleration for this at all, and will continue to work with the student union to try to develop a collegiate position where the students at Kings don’t endorse it.”
Union of Jewish Students President Hannah Rose also addressed the meeting. On the problem of campus antisemitism, she said: “While problematic events do occur. Make no mistake. Jewish students are standing up and making their voices heard every day.
She added: “When we come together as a community to fight antisemitism, we can beat antisemitism.”
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “I am very grateful to Professor Byrne for giving up his Sunday to speak to us about the excellent work he has done with the Board of Deputies and UJS, moving forward from a very distressing incident in which Jewish students were intimidated on their own campus.
“I was particularly happy to hear his forthright condemnation of Israel Apartheid Week. The relationship we have developed is good news for Jewish students at King’s college London. Thanks also to UJS President Hannah Rose who gave an excellent speech about the challenges facing Jewish students.”