Written by Student Rights on 6 November 2009 at 5pm

Controversy at LSE for Israeli Foreign Minister

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon spoke at the LSE on the 26th October 2009. This would have served as a good opportunity for this controversial figure to discuss the content of his talk entitled, ‘The Situation in the Middle East: the view from Israel’. However a considerable amount of his 52-minute talk was spent being interrupted as his right to have the LSE platform was on debate.

The controversy that surrounded Ayalan’s visit was based on Israel’s recent conflict with Gaza and his personal membership of the Yisrael Beitaynu party, considered by some to be one of the more extreme parties in the government. Many students complained about the prestigious platform given to him by LSE although they did not actively campaign to deny him the freedom of speech elsewhere. Students and staff at LSE objected to the mass email promoting the event and have asked for justification for Ayalon's invitation.

The Director of LSE Howard Davies vindicated the decision, in a letter to the Palestine Solidarity Initiative:

Daniel Ayalon

“The individual concerned is a senior member of an elected government of a state with which the UK has diplomatic relations. We were careful to ensure that he was prepared to take questions, that there would be no involvement by the Embassy or the Government in the selection of the audience, or screening of subjects for discussion. We received assurances on all those grounds.”

He went on to cite the School’s tradition of open debate and strong commitment to free speech. Students from such groups as the LSESU Palestine Society, the Palestine Solidarity Initiative, Jews for the boycott of Israeli goods and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network all protested at the talk. The right to protest and the right to freedom of speech are equally as important however it was reported that during the talk Ayalon was repeatedly heckled and not able to speak by some of the protesters. Davies invited the Palestinian societies to propose a speaker in the future to speak to the LSE who offer a different perspective on the prospect for peace in the Middle East.

The call to remove Ayalon from the LSE’s prestigious platform came soon after a recent LSE Student Union vote in favour of a motion to deny the BNP a platform to speak. From Student Rights experience, silencing organisations and individuals does not put an end to their views but rather leaves them publically unchallenged.  We do after all, live in a democracy.