The official report of Oxford University’s Palestine Society on last night’s demonstrations against the speech by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon:
Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister and member of the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, came to the Oxford Union on 8 February, on a desperate PR mission to resuscitate Israel’s image after global public condemnation for its war crimes in Gaza last year. The Oxford Students’ Palestine Society, together with other student groups and members of the public, organised a protest, both on the street outside the Union and within the debating chamber itself.
It is our belief that Yisrael Beitenu, Danny Ayalon’s party, is a racist party which advocates apartheid policies. Ayalon himself refuses to recognise the West Bank and Jerusalem as Occupied Territory and is attempting to introduce legislation which would criminalise Palestinians who celebrate their national day of remembrance, Nakba Day. The fact that such a figure was invited to the Oxford Union unopposed is a disgrace. As such, we, the Oxford Students’ Palestine Society, felt it necessary to present our own challenge, and demonstrate the continuing resistance to apartheid, to occupation, to the crippling blockade on Gaza, to house demolitions and to settlement building.
The protest was a massive success. Outside, over a hundred people joined together to chant slogans in support of Palestine, carrying banners condemning Israeli policy and waving the Palestinian flag. Inside, numerous individual students interrupted the talk, challenging Ayalon’s assertions that the West Bank and East Jerusalem were not Occupied Territory, and that Israel had ‘given up’ a third of its country in its peace deal with Egypt. Before long, Ayalon was not able to continue his rehearsed speech, and was forced to contend with a gathering storm of intelligent questions and statements contradicting his evasions and outright lies. At one point a member of the Palestine Society read out a full page of the Goldstone Report dealing with Israel’s deliberate killing of civilians, to thunderous applause from the audience. Another student raised a Palestinian flag and called out a list of Israel’s war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons during the war on Gaza in January 2009. Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, sitting in the front row, looked bewildered and embarrassed by his colleague’s feeble performance.
Beyond the hosting of Ayalon, and his outrageous remarks, the real scandal of the evening was the thuggery of Ayalon’s security staff. After the talk, as one protestor photographed their car, the security staff drove straight into him. This sort of violence is commonplace in the Occupied Territories, but rarely exposed outside them, seeming particularly surreal in Oxford. The protestor was carried on the car bonnet a hundred yards down New Inn Hall Street, clinging on as the security staff sped up. When he managed to fling himself clear, the protestor was badly bruised, but luckily escaped serious injury. Two other Oxford students had been forced to jump for cover as the car accelerated. After the car swiftly disappeared, the three lodged an official complaint. Thames Valley Police are now investigating the incident, having been provided with photographic evidence.
Nevertheless, despite the violence, the incident could not detract from the success of the protest, nor distract from the clear message that students sent to Ayalon and his state: until Israel ends its illegal occupation and the Palestinians receive the justice they have been denied for the last six decades, Israel’s representatives and propagandists will not be welcome at Oxford University. This is the same message which British students sent to President Shimon Peres in November 2008, and which American students sent to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in October 2009. It was sent again to Ambassador Michael Oren by students in California, on the same day as our protest at Ayalon’s appearance in Oxford. The call for justice continues.