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No Safe Space for Jews at KCL [updated]

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

Tuesday night’s heavily publicised Apartheid Week event at Kings College London was billed as the ‘Opening Plenary’. The speakers were Aja Monet Farid (a ‘poet’) and Farid Esack (a South African Muslim ‘liberation theologian’ at the University of Johannesburg). The title: “100 years of Palestinian resistance against settler colonialism.” 100 years ago the Jews who lived in Palestine were born there but hey comrades, who cares about historical accuracy when we have exciting things like intersectionality and liberation theology to tell you about?

Before the event began there was a huge “Safe Space” announcement on the screen:

‘KCLSU is committed to providing an inclusive and supportive space for all students. This policy is applicable to our whole student community, whether an individual or a member within a group, KCLSU ratified student activity group, representative forum or sport team.

KCLSU believes all students should be free from intimidation or harassment, resulting from prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, marital or maternity/paternity status, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, trans staus, socio-economic status, or ideology or culture, or any other form of distinction. You can call/text a KCLSU Safe Space Marshall during this event on 077717 41631’


Given what was to follow, this announcement was a kick in the teeth to any Israel supporters in the audience, including most of the Jewish students there (see below). The speakers simply assumed that Israel was The Great Satan and needed to be boycotted. There was simply no discussion of this and also no mention of Israeli casualties, eg those who have died in the stabbing and car ramming incidents in recent months and of those in Judea and Samaria who have been killed by Palestinians. No mention. Zilch.

The Chair was Rafeef Ziadah, a ‘Palestinian poet and human rights activist’ (she also seems to have a position at SOAS). She was on her best behaviour but it is not hard to find her extremist connections. She claims her family was ‘forced out’ of Haifa. The truth is that the Arabs who left Haifa in 1948 were not ‘forced out’ at all. And she has praised a terrorist member of Islamic Jihad, Khader Adnan.  As Richard Millett commented at IAW five years ago, ‘when he is not on hunger strike he does a nice sideline in inciting the killing of Jews.’. Ziadah has also worked for War On Want (who sponsored the KCL meeting).

Aja Monet Farid is from Brooklyn. She began with a ‘statement’ which included the phrase ‘Zionists, racists and colonisers demean me’. She is a member of ‘Black Lives Matter’. She wants ‘Intersectionalism’ which is the theory that all the causes of the Left are connected, so for example ‘Black Lives Matter’ and anti-Israel activists need to work together. Her metaphor for the Israel/Palestinian conflict: “If you have a foot on your neck, what are you going to do to get it off?”. She is not a fan of ‘safe spaces’ either. “We need to stand for what’s right .. What does love look like as a political technology?” Pretty meaningless stuff so far …. Surprisingly little insights about (or even mentions of) Israel – just the assumption it’s the Great Satan.

Farid Esack’s talk included pretty much all the hard left pro-Palestinian clichés – and then some. He offensively (where’s that ‘safe space’ when you need it…..) compared the Palestinians to a woman beaten up by a man who was abused by his father. ‘Life in the shadow of Zionism is worse than Apartheid .. the Bantustans are a gift from heaven compared to what the Palestinians have ….Ethnic cleansing was always an objective of the State of Israel while white South Africans never wished for a country without blacks…… G-d is not an estate agent, ‘G-d told us this’ is the language of ISIS…..The oppressor needs liberation, the liberation of the Palestinians will lead to the liberation of Jews and Israelis’.

Farid Esack hosted the convicted terrorist Leila Khaled on her tour of South Africa. He also refused to condemn terrorist attacks in Paris and said instead “I walk away from your shitty racist and Islamophobic expectations that whenever your chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.” In the Q+A I got the chance to ask him about both these. He refused to condemn terrorism, saying that Mandela was a ‘terrorist’ (of course there is a difference between using violence against an oppressive regime and using it against a liberal democracy such as the US and Israel). His risible explanation for his Paris comments was that he was tired of being asked to condemn Islamist atrocities!

Neither of the speakers was prepared to condemn or even mention murders of Israelis by Palestinians.  So sitting in Row 2, I stood up and waved an Israel flag at them. My way of remembering the Israeli dead. Ziadah, Farid and Esack may be prepared to ignore them……….. Well I am not.

Indeed, afterwards it was reported that some Jewish students were reduced to tears by the condoning of terrorism and disregard of innocent lives being taken by terrorist attacks. They will be filing a complaint to KCL Union and complaining to the CST. So much for the ‘safe space’ policy. And Ziadah had the nerve to accuse me of violating the policy when I stood up with the flag!

Postscript: Here is a very moving blog by a First Year KCL student. Look at the blatant discrimination she points out (my emboldening):

‘For our Israel society, there are extensive rules which are applied scrupulously. We must have an impartial academic chair, a safe space policy, safe space marshalls and other extensive measures for our ‘controversial speakers’. The Palestinian society, KCL Action Palestine, however, is allowed to bring in speakers who promote terrorism and have been previously banned from other institutions  - without an academic chair or any provisions for ensuring freedom of speech for others.’