The protest against the presence of an Israeli speaker at the university reportedly resulted in three female students being assaulted, whilst protesters surrounded and trapped attendees despite efforts by university security and police to separate them from the protesters. At one point protesters jumped through a window to confront the terrified audience of predominantly Jewish students.
Campaign Against Antisemitism submitted a formal complaint to UCL’s Provost, Professor Michael Arthur, over the protest and the antisemitic tweets of Yahya Abu Seido, President of UCLU Friends of Palestine Society.
Professor Arthur commissioned Professor Geraint Rees, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences to investigate, and Campaign Against Antisemitism provided input into the investigation.
The investigation upheld our complaint with the following findings:
- Those connected with the protest stirred up hatred through the “wide circulation on social media of an inflammatory message”;
- “Some individuals at UCL and from at least four other institutions…planned to prevent the event taking place; created a hostile, aggressive and intimidatory atmosphere; and conducted their protest noisily and aggressively such that many students, staff and other attendees felt intimidated by their behaviour”;
- Protesters who jumped through the windows “intentionally disrupted and interfered” with the event;
- A protester “engaged in physically aggressive behaviour towards attendees that included attempting to block entry…and pushing a female attendee necessitating police intervention”;
- The chant of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, and as such is antisemitic under the International Definition of Antisemitism;
- Students were intimidated by shouts of “Shame!” from the protesters as they left the event;
- UCL failed to “adequately protect freedom of expression on campus”, including “an initial failure to accurately assess and report risk” and failures on the day of the event including that “a perimeter was not secured around the ultimate venue and the windows were not secured prior to use of the venue”; and
- Statements by UCL and the Students’ Union stated that the protests were peaceful when this was clearly contrary to the evidence.
In our interactions with Professor Rees, we recommended that he propose various measures, some of which he has adopted.
Five students have been referred for disciplinary action. We have stressed the importance of disciplinary action in this area being firm, swift and transparent, recalling the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee findings. Additionally Professor Rees has proposed new rules for visitors to UCL, which are needed to prevent intimidation by outsiders against whom UCL has limited recourse. He also called for loudspeakers to be banned in protests near contentious events.
Whilst Professor Rees has called for various rule changes, they are not specific and we are now writing to UCL to propose that the International Definition be adopted by for disciplinary purposes, that future contentious events be monitored by members of staff with recording equipment, and that those who engage in intimidation be referred to the police whenever crimes are committed.