Earlier today, Impact learned that the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, was to hold a public lecture in the Great Hall at 6pm. The lecture, which drew fire from protestors led by the Palestinian Society, was to be a discussion of “Historical Context, Regional Perspectives and Israel’s search for peace”. With very little publicity for the ‘public’ event, many students were only alerted to its existence by the increased security outside the Trent Building. Security personnel, when questioned, were unable to disclose the ambassador’s identity.
After a brief delay, and following a short introduction from vice chancellor David Greenaway, the ambassador took the floor. In a short 30-minute speech Prosor engaged with several ideas involving the Middle East, drawing dramatic reactions from a few spectators who left the room following a comment on the 1973 Yom Kippur War. When the ambassador addressed them as to why they were leaving, the reply was “because you are lying”.
The issue of Gaza was one addressed in the speech and closely scrutinised in the questioning that followed. After a question on Israeli war crimes an individual interrupted with the comment that “all I have heard is rhetoric”, followed by the accusation that ambassador Prosor had “blood on his hands”. Another dramatic exit followed.
Throughout the lecture came a backing track courtesy of the protesters outside who produced a continual stream of chants, condemning Israeli foreign policy and denouncing Prosor as a war criminal. The protest itself was loud but peaceful, watched over by a large police presence consisting of nearly twenty officers outside the event, along with large vehicles and helicopter surveillance. Protestors were blocked from entering the Trent courtyard, while security staff frisked attendees.
One leader of the protest said “I think they are depoliticising campuses. They are trying to deny the fact that the vast majority of students do care about international issues, are aware that hundreds of children were killed when Gaza was bombed and want to stand firm against that.” She continued, arguing that “the university is ignoring what the vast majority of students on campus feel. They’re trying to side with Israel, when most people want to see an end to the occupation.”
Following the conclusion of the lecture, one member of JSOC argued that the protest was not constructive: “They were trying to disrupt an intelligent and coherent debate that was going on. They should have got tickets and asked questions like the rest of us.”
The protest, which fell victim to torrential rain, was interrupted briefly when a group of unknown individuals arrived, shouting “Who the f**king hell are you”, before being escorted away by the police. Around fifty people took part in the protest, including local residents who were unhappy with the university’s invitation to the ambassador.
The university has released a statement, saying “As a university we are committed to the principle of freedom of speech. We have a diverse multinational community at The University of Nottingham, and we seek to provide all our students with a tolerant environment in which free and open debate is encouraged.”
Prosor himself had been critical of anti-Israeli sentiment on British campuses in the past, complaining in 2008 that “Israel has been cast as a pantomime villain.”
Dave Jackson (Additional Reporting by Daniel Gadher)
Images by Bruno Albutt, Leon Ferri and Andrew Mehigan