Last night, 25 Jan, Hen Mazzig returned to University College London (UCL) for a talk. Hen has uploaded his discussion with the UCL Provost on Facebook. Hen had been invited there following the disgraceful scenes that faced him upon his first visit in 2016. For those that do not remember, anti-Israel protestors attempted to no-platform Hen. The event went ahead in a different room, with Jewish students penned inside and surrounded by screaming haters. The protest was intimidating and aggressive, and the Jewish students needed to be escorted off campus by police. The University brought some students up on disciplinary charges (the demonstrators yesterday, kept referencing ‘five Muslim students’ – I am assuming this is accurate).
The ‘Return of Hen’, to UCL has not been without controversy. Worried about another demonstration, either through a deliberate disruption inside, or mass protest outside, the University clamped down on both attendance and advertising. Even Jewish students from another campus were not permitted to register.
Protest at UCL
As was predicted, the anti-Israel crowd organised a protest. ‘UCL Friends of Palestine Society’ uploaded a call to their Facebook page. And followed up with some hard-hitting adverts, trying to drum up support:
In truth, it didn’t seem to have as much of an impact within anti-Israel groups as last time. Many of the ‘shares’ were from Zionists, who were discussing this activity on their own pages. Many of the comments were from Hen and his supporters. Pro-Israeli students, arranged a counter protest at UCL, wavering between a simple counter demonstration or a more positive ‘Tel Aviv takes the Quad‘ event, that would see them hold a small party and share food and drink with other students.
In the end, about 50-60 anti-Israel activists showed up at the UCL Quad, which is a central area just inside the main gates onto the UCL campus. A group of about 20 Jewish students were there to meet them.
Flags waved, songs were sung, and the anti-Israel activists soon tired of the confrontation. After about just ten minutes, they headed off in the direction of the building Hen was giving a talk inside.
At this point it became obvious that police, university security, and some plain clothed security officers were accompanying the two groups as they headed off campus, and towards another UCL building near Goodge Street Station. Upon arrival, the two groups stood face to face, with the anti-Israel crowd also taking the area directly in front of the building access.
The student on the left playing with his phone, is Yahya Abu Seido, who was the ringleader of the event in 2016. The one with the megaphone is was also at the 2016 event, and was one of the central figures involved in the scuffle that night, whilst trying to deny Jewish students access into the second venue.
As a matter of interest, I have seen him at several non-campus events, and most recently, at the MEND event at Parliament.
Songs will be sung at UCL
The demonstrators began with their usual chants. ‘From the river to the sea’ and ‘Israel is a terror state’ are easy enough lines to remember. They tried one that rhymed with ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanction’, but the lyrics proved a little hard for the university students to handle, and the ‘choirmaster’ soon gave up. An interesting turn when counting their own support. The chant ‘in our thousands, in our millions’, no longer satisfies them, and yesterday, we heard the new refrain ‘in our millions, in our billions’. Billions? Every one a Palestinian refugees no doubt.
As the anti-Israel activists cried out their desire for Israel to be wiped off the map, the Jewish students responded by dancing. The London Zionist campus scene has come a long way in the last 15 months. They are a good group, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I stood there watching the two sides, one calling for the destruction of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, the other, singing, dancing and offering biscuits and chocolate to everyone that walked past.
The anti-Israel demonstrators had a megaphone, but the crowd itself didn’t seem to have that much motivation. And the more the Jewish students danced, the worse it got. Two of those who controlled the megaphone (they alternated between about four separate demonstrators), criticised the jovial nature of the pro-Israeli group. ‘Why are they smiling’, ‘how can they laugh’, they asked. The attitude of the Jewish students was visibly having an effect. With no answer to Jewish songs of peace, they resorted to frustrated criticism.
There was little trouble. One Jewish student had a pack of biscuits snatched from his hand. Beyond that, the confrontation remained peaceful. Where the two groups met, the Jewish students tried to engage in dialogue.
That sinking feeling
It is almost four years since those dark days in the summer of 2014. Almost all of the students today, were nowhere near a university during that conflict. The numbers have gone and the feeling of growing momentum has dissipated, taking much of the motivation with it. In addition, there is a growing awareness amongst many on the left, of the clear correlation between anti-Israel activity and antisemitism. New recruits are proving difficult to find. The recent protests over Jerusalem, required Mosques to drag up the ‘Al Aqsa’ libel, to bring numbers on the street. Beyond the Muslim call to holy war, both Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, and dressing up Ahed Tamimi as Rosa Parks have failed to bring more than a handful of protestors onto the streets.
So as Jewish students sought dialogue, a few ‘organisers’ in the anti-Israel demonstration, tried to keep the two sides apart. This is not in their script and they do not know how to respond to it. Dancing, singing, trying to engage, it all cuts through their narrative like a knife through butter.
The moment of the evening for me, was when some of the Jewish students broke the news to the demonstrators, that Hen ‘had left the UCL building’ already. And he was ‘back in his hotel’. I think that glimmer of hope had held them together for the final half-hour. When it was taken away from them, you could see the look of dejection on their faces.
But my role is not to be a cheerleader, I am there to research, and learn from those who oppose us. The UCL crowd was visibly deflated, and the more the Jewish students sang, the more deflated the other side became. As I moved within both sides of the crowd, it was the exchanges between them that was the most enlightening.
This was the image of the night. Harry Markham and Yahya Abu Seido, sitting on the floor, in the middle of the demonstration, talking to each other.
What separates them is understanding, perception, knowledge and respect, and it is dialogue that breaks down those walls. It is why dialogue is toxic to BDS, and on more than one occasion someone came to try to take Yahya away. We seek dialogue because we know it is the only way to bring peace. BDS opposes it because it isn’t peace BDS is after. They are explicitly TOLD not to engage.
I believe Yahya when he says he doesn’t want to hurt Jews, and he may be genuine in his desire for a utopian ‘one-state’ humanitarian paradise. His failure isn’t just in his inability to grasp the naive nature of his political desires. He doesn’t understand Jews and he doesn’t get the concept of Zionism. He cannot see that in reality, he is asking the Jews to be Dhimmi, with their safety totally dependent on an Ummahthat is split into countless factions and currently engaged in mass slaughter. When he speaks of equality, he doesn’t seem to grasp that our refusal to even entertain his offer, is because it isn’t real. When we say ‘no thanks, we want to look after ourselves’, he sees our rejection as unreasonable. From here, the idea we are ‘supremacists’ is just a step away.
And it is important to understand this crowd. This may be blind hatred, but they are not all beyond reach. The majority would fail a test on the basic history of the conflict or of Zionism. All of them have conceptual errors in the crucial areas needed to gain understanding.
A few of them are two-staters, standing in the crowd because they sympathise with the Palestinians and BDS is the only game in town. As you engage them one on one, you soon realise that the only unifying feature is ignorance. These are students, not warriors. It is easier, but self-defeating to believe that every one is an immovable antisemite. There are some people in this crowd who could be swayed.
There were a few, with their faces fully hidden behind the Keffiyeh. They looked very ‘extremist’. Except not all of them were. One spoke, demanding that the Jewish student she was in dialogue with accept that Palestinians deserve a state too. She explicitly accepted Israel’s right to exist. That isn’t the face of BDS, fully dressed in a BDS uniform.
The smiling policemen at UCL
At times the air filled with surreal statements. It was suggested that the police would have arrested them if the situation was reversed and those dancing students were Muslims. Claims that the police were allowing intimidation and harassment, as the demonstration was being stifled. I was standing next to two policeman, they looked around at the calm atmosphere, the dancing Jewish students, the people who were engaged in dialogue, and then they laughed. As professional as they were, as much as they did not want to, the sheer absurdity of the ‘harassment claims’ produced smiles and a few shakes of the head. In response to this, the Jewish students belted out the British National Anthem.
There was some sinister undertones to some of the talk too. Mainly from
I was listening to one anti-Israel activist suggest that it is the Jewish side that doesn’t want dialogue. An absurd claim for a group that no-platforms, and stands alongside a ‘no to normalisation’ banner. He is totally oblivious to reality. The entire concept of BDS is to avoid and openly reject dialogue. There is no ‘T’ (talk) in BDS.
The BDS cult
Theirs is empty rhetoric. When you get up close, they just chant the same boring songs. They do not offer change or hope, and present only a picture of despair. Their demands cannot possibly be met. When you talk to them, there is no substance to their discussion. So false is their narrative, so extreme their united position, that they may as well be calling for the creation of Narnia. These people need to be saved from themselves.
Which is exactly why BDS doesn’t want dialogue. They are scared of truth, scared of facts, scared of the ‘followers’ seeing that the emperor has no clothes. To survive, BDS had to become a cult.
Because BDS, via the directions of the ‘Central Committee’ is a cult, acts like a cult, and directs BDS activists exactly like a cult. These from a checklist of cult behaviour from the website of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICCA):
- Excessive zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, philosophy. In this case the concept of ‘The historic Greater Palestine’
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished
- Mind-altering practices, such as meditation, chanting (‘FREE,FREE PALESTINE’)
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members
- The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society
- The movement is not accountable to (and openly rejects) any authorities
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members
- Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members
- Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members
This was almost written as if BDS was the subject. It is a movement of intellectual darkness and of war, using the university campus as its primary hunting ground. Which is why the authorities must do everything in their power to disable the cult. The entire university education apparatus is there to teach students to think for themselves, to apply critical reasoning to issues they face, to debate, research, learn and grow. If they cannot even do that, then what is the point of them at all?