Guest post by Ellen Lee and Eman Salem, University of Kent Palestinian Solidarity Group
On 10 November, several members of the Kent Palestinian Solidarity Group gathered in front of the Powell Lecture Theatre building on the Canterbury Christchurch campus to demonstrate against a talk being given that evening, by Israeli Embassy representative Rony Yadidia.
Her lecture was part of the Israeli embassy’s attempt to improve Israel’s public relations image, whereby representatives have been soliciting speaking appearances on different UK university campuses.
The recent increase in need for Israeli PR stems from the increasing perception of Israeli products as the “world’s worst brand”, and the rise of the boycott movement globally. In these lectures, the representative is meant to give an account of the history of Israel, followed by a talk on the “future of the two state solution”.
The Kent Palestinian Solidarity Group was deeply concerned not only that this talk would be very biased, but also that there was no Palestinian representation and therefore it would be very impressionable on those who were new to the subject of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Therefore, we decided to stage a peaceful demonstration in front of the lecture theatre to ensure our voices were heard and that those attending the lecture were fully aware that there were two wholly different sides to the same story.
We went there with our banners, posters, flags and informative leaflets, ready to educate. We had posters with statements like “Stop Ignoring Palestinian Voices”, “Palestinian Voices Matter”, and “I Stand in Solidarity with the People of Palestine”.
The university’s guards were almost immediately alerted and told us that we had to stay clear of the entrance so as to not disrupt the event.
As more and more people arrived, we found several were not only glad to see us but were also willing to question the lack of Palestinian representation in the event.
The student organiser of the event met us, too. He informed us that they had intended to include a Palestinian representative as well, but the Israeli embassy had refused to attend if there was any sort of Palestinian representation. He also said they had very reluctantly agreed to a questions and answers session to be done after the lecture itself.
There were many supporters among the crowd; in fact, several of them were attending the event in order to question Israel’s stance and its policies. We managed to get more names added to our mailing list, and it was very inspiring to see that there were so many politically aware students who had come to this event specifically to represent the Palestinian voice, and to question what they were being told.
Although we were not allowed inside (it was strictly limited to Christchurch staff and students), we were updated about what happened in the event and were told that the representative had given a biased and “completely factually inaccurate” version of the history of Israel, and that right after, she was met with questions about everything she had said.
One great question was about “the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous”, which she very conveniently ignored. She also feigned ignorance about the UN stance.
Another interesting question posed was “Why did Desmond Tutu describe it as apartheid?” to which she responded, “He does not know what apartheid is.”
There was even a point at which she stated that “in 1967, the borders were more or less decided on”, and was met with laughter from the crowd. She described gaining Palestinian territories in the 1967 as “spoils of war”. There was also a Palestinian refugee there and Ms Yedidia was unable to respond to her.
Many of us have differing views on whether the speech should have taken place or not, regardless of the ultimate motive of the CCCU Debating & Politics society hosting it. As a tweet on the day has shown, the Israeli embassy in the UK did not miss the opportunity to appropriate the event and use it to suggest CCCU support for Israel.
It was still a pleasure to meet fellow friends in solidarity at CCCU, and another contact within the university has informed us that a roundtable discussion between the society and the Vice Chancellor was due to take place concerning the event.