Written evidence from the UK Lawyers for Israel (FSU0033)




  1. UK Lawyers for Israel is a voluntary association of lawyers who seek to ensure the fair and lawful treatment of those who support Israel. Our members and supporters include some of the most distinguished lawyers in the country. We are regularly consulted by Jewish and other students who support Israel regarding both the suppression of their freedom of speech at UK universities and events at universities with extremist speakers who stir up hostility towards them.


  1. Meetings at universities organised by their Jewish or Israel societies with moderate speakers have been deliberately closed down by violent riots organised by Palestinian societies on a number of occasions in recent years. Examples in relation to which we have been consulted include a meeting of the Israel Society at Kings College London (KCL) in January 2016, addressed by Ami Ayalon (formerly Commander of the Israeli Navy, Head of the Israeli Secret Service, Member of the Israeli Parliament for the Labour Party, and now a peace campaigner); and a meeting of the University College London (UCL) Friends of Israel Society in October 2016, addressed by Hen Mazzig (who previously worked for the Israeli administration in the West Bank as an intermediary between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and the Palestinian Authority, UN bodies and NGOs, overseeing the construction of medical facilities, schools, roads, water infrastructure and environmental projects).


  1. To the best of our knowledge those responsible for this gross misconduct, including those who organised the riots, have not been effectively punished; or, if they have, this has been kept secret. In these circumstances, repetition of such misconduct has not been deterred, and victims (some of whom were significantly traumatised) have not been reassured.


  1. We sought information by Freedom of Information requests from the London universities as to whether they had imposed any and, if so, what sanctions for misconduct in relation to the meeting at KCL with Ami Ayalon. With the exception of KCL they replied that they had not imposed any sanctions on any student. KCL refused to provide the requested information on the ground that it might enable a student or students (if any) who was/were disciplined to be identified, and that this would be somehow unfair on the student(s) concerned. The Information Commissioner upheld this refusal and we have appealed to the Information Tribunal.


  1. A student at SOAS was convicted of an assault on the Chair of the KCL Israel Society. She was conditionally discharged and ordered to pay £200 costs, £100 compensation and £20 victim surcharge. In our view, this sentence was insufficient to deter – as was borne out by the subsequent riot at the meeting of the UCL Friends of Israel Society with Hen Mazzig.


  1. Instead of deterring the deliberate disruption of meetings of Jewish and Israel societies by effective and public sanctions, university authorities have imposed or allowed their students’ unions to impose special restrictions on meetings of these societies which significantly hamper freedom of expression of views in support of Israel on campus.


  1. For example, KCL students union now insists that KCL Action Palestine (KCLAP) is informed in advance of the Israel Society’s events and asked whether they would like any “mitigations” imposed. KCLAP (which organised the disruption of the Ayalon meeting) has effectively been given control over the Israel Society’s events. By contrast, KCL’s Israel Society was not consulted when KCLAP held a meeting with Farid Esack, a highly inflammatory speaker who promotes boycotting Israeli universities, hosted Leila Khaled (a member of the Policy Bureau of the terrorist organisation PFLP) on her fund-raising tour of South Africa, and refused to condemn terrorist attacks in Paris. The reason for this discrimination is that meetings of the Israel Society are liable to be broken up by thugs, whereas there is no such risk with meetings of the Palestinian Society.


  1. In many cases the advertising of an event with an Israel-supporting speaker is prevented or restricted by the university or students’ union, or avoided by the Israel or Jewish Society holding the event, in order to diminish the risk of disruption. Furthermore, students’ unions often prohibit advertising in advance of approval of the event, and approval for events with Israel-supporting speakers is liable to be delayed, whether due to security concerns or prevarication, thereby diminishing the advance publicity that can be given to them.


  1. Even if an event with an Israel-supporting speaker is advertised, it is often made ticket-only to ensure that those who would disrupt it can be excluded. In addition, special security measures are usually required for such meetings, including the presence of security staff and checking the identities of those who seek to attend. In practice these measures discourage people from attending unless they are already members of the society organising it.


  1. Jewish and Israel societies are sometimes asked to pay for security for meetings with Israel-supporting speakers. This may result in their not being held at all, or in fewer such meetings being held. Even if the societies are not required to pay for security, the extra steps that have to be taken to forestall disruption constitute a significant overhead, limiting the number of such events that can be held.


  1. Thus the current position tends to be that meetings with Israel-supporting speakers can go ahead at British universities, but often only under onerous conditions which make it unlikely that they will be attended by students who are not already sympathetic to Israel. This means that many students do not get to hear viewpoints supporting Israel. By contrast, there are rarely any similar restrictions on anti-Israel speakers, who often deliver highly misleading propaganda, inflaming hostility towards Israel and those who support it. Because of the restrictions and impediments on the expression of pro-Israel views or the provision of accurate information about Israel, this propaganda generally goes unopposed and unchallenged.


  1. This state of affairs has contributed to an increasingly hostile atmosphere towards Jewish and other Israel-supporting students at a number of British universities. Once a university has acquired a reputation as a hostile campus, Jewish students may avoid going there. For example, the University of Manchester had well over a thousand Jewish students a number of years ago, but now has less than 200, in part due to its reputation as a hostile campus for them. A vicious circle then sets in: when there are fewer Jewish students at a particular university, there is even less opportunity to counter the lies propagated about Israel, and thus more entrenched hostility. Furthermore, when Jewish students are in a very small minority, University administrations may be even more reluctant to take steps to support them.


  1. What appears to have happened at the University of Manchester could be a harbinger of what may happen at British universities generally if these problems continue to grow unchecked. In an increasingly global market for higher education, Jewish students from the UK may choose to study at universities in other countries. So far as we are aware, this has not yet happened to any significant extent for undergraduate degrees, but if it does start to happen, the trend could be difficult to reverse.


  1. In addition, as David Cameron observed in his Ninestiles speech, hostility towards Israel is often a starting point that leads to radicalisation and ultimately terrorism.


  1. As long as freedom of expression of views supporting Israel and accurate information relating to Israel is inhibited as described above, there is a particular need for full application of the Prevent guidance. Extremist views relating to Israel are liable to be believed uncritically where the contrary narrative is suppressed. By contrast, if effective steps were taken to enable and facilitate the expression of pro-Israel views and accurate and balanced information relating to Israel, this would in itself provide a significant bulwark against extremism and radicalisation. There might then be less need for full application of the Prevent guidance.


  1. But this requires much more robust and effective action by universities, the Police, the CPS and the Courts, to deter disruption of meetings with Israel-supporting speakers and other aggressive or intimidating actions towards students who express sympathy with Israel. Those who organise or participate in such misconduct should be firmly and publicly punished. The former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sir Eric Pickles, was right when he said “I have felt for some time that universities have at best been inactive about anti-Semitism and have turned a blind eye to it. They have shown grave cowardice”. This needs to change.

15 December 2017