'Nazis', accusations against students and one very egregious man: The state of affairs at the London School of Economics
Recently, Student Rights warned about the speech from Abdel Bari Atwan which took place at the London School of Economics on Monday night. Student Rights' eyes and ears were inside the event and what was witnessed was intolerance, anti-semitism and misconduct on a grand scale.
A talk scheduled by a man who has once, on record stated, "If the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight," was always going to be controversial. But the Chairman of the discussion and the audience also behaved in a manner which has reportedly made many students uneasy about their time at the London School of Economics.
At this point, we have to consider that yes, universities will typically be hives of 'activism' and 'radical' behaviour, however we urge a line be drawn when it comes to accusations of Nazism, making students feel nervous and unwelcome on campus and demonising a race of people. In this instance, we refer to the experiences of many Jewish students, many of whom attended the talk without preconceptions of the speaker or the nature of the talk entitled "How much influence does the Zionist Lobby exert on US & UK Foreign Policy?
The lead up to the event was controversial, however there were glimmers of hope in terms of achieving cohesion on a campus that has been witness to many controversies over the past few years alone. The Student Union twinning with the Islamic University of Gaza and the discovery of a 'Hizb-ut-Tahrir' member employed by the LSE are just two examples of many. However, the LSESU Palestine Society, the hosts of the event initially made concessions in moving the event from Friday night to Monday night, so Jewish students could also attend.
Unfortunately, despite the good natured behaviour of the organisers in this sense, they refused to balance the discussion by having someone speak opposite Atwan and thus condemned the event to being a diatribe of anti-Jewish sentiment. Atwan repeatedly referred to the all-powerful “Jewish lobby” and shouted at Jewish students, "you bombed Gaza". This is completely unacceptable behaviour from a man who claims to be a, 'highly respected author'. He was forced to back down when a student confronted him about this statement. “I am not generalising when I say that you bomb Gaza. We are very passionate. We mean the Israeli – I didn’t mean you bombed Gaza.”
One student reported: I felt intimidated by the speaker - frightened by the response of the audience.
In 2009, during mass disruption following the 'Cast Lead' Operation in the ongoing Middle-East conflict, a LSE Students Union passed a policy to ensure that anti-semitism on campus was not tolerated. Prior to this event, it should have been clear about Atwan's views and how he treads the thin line in this respect. It is safe to say that when Jewish students are labelled as 'Nazis' by their peers - something has gone terribly wrong. President of the Israel Society, Gabi Kobrin, raised a question regarding Atwan's 'Trafalgar Square statement' and asked firstly why he denied saying it and whether he would denounce his view.
Atwan retorted unconvincingly “I am actually a very good dancer. It was a smear campaign against me. Who bombed Gaza? I bombed it? Who killed thousands of people? Who invaded Lebanon? Was it me? That’s the problem. They should be ashamed of themselves to silence someone, who’s homeless for years. That’s the problem, that’s the real question. Point your fingers to those massacring us.”
The LSESU paper 'The Beaver' reports that "students were not satisfied with his answer", to which he said: “I answered your question. You are bombing my country. I am a peaceful person. We are not going to be intimidated or terrorised.” Atwan refused to condemn Hamas, “Would you want me to condemn those who are resisting the occupation? Is this the objective? Did Hamas commit war crimes like Goldstone report reported clearly?”
Lastly, when the LSE Student Union anti-racism officer stood up to read the policy on anti-semitism, charging Atwan with a breach of this, Atwan retorted, "Your accusation is wrong. This is intimidation... I had the courage to correct myself. Have you the courage to correct your question? That’s the problem.” By any rational person's standards, this is an unacceptable state of affairs at the London School of Economics. Once an institution which revelled in its international appeal, the LSE is fast becoming a place of controversy for what seems like controversy's sake. What I ask you to consider is what dialogue is being fostered, what problems are being solved by hosting a man like Abdel Bari Atwan? Who benefits. We contend that no one does.
After the event descended into chaos, the Student Union issued a comment beginning, "We regret that the event ended in the way that it did." Certainly more rifts have been produced because of this man. Here at Student Rights - we regret the event in its unaltered format ever took place at all.