An alternative account of Ami Ayalon’s visit to Kings College

This article was originally published here and is reproduced with kind permission form the author.

I am a Jew. I feel that it is important to state this at the outset because, for some reason, my identity allows others to take my criticism of Zionism more seriously. It also helps cast doubt over dubious claims that being anti-Zionist is synonymous with Anti-Semitism.

Being open about my views risks ostracism. It results in labels of ‘self-hating’ and barrages of hate-mail telling me I am the worst kind of traitor to my people. Yet none of this comes close to the violence and oppression meted out on the Palestinian people each and every day.

The South African Jewish Anti-Zionist cartoonist, Zapiro, once noted in relation to the plight of the Palestinians, “If you identify with the oppression of your own people, it is your duty to make those connections with the oppression of others.” This is what my Jewishness has taught me and this is why I joined a few dozen activists to confront the former Israeli intelligence boss, Ami Ayalon, who spoke at Kings College on the 19th of January.

The goal was to enter the event and use our voice to call Ayalon to account for his history of violence and the oppression oversaw as the former head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency). However, despite arriving there early and being at the head of the line, only members of the sponsoring Israel Society were allowed entry. Billed as open to the public, this event clearly was precisely the opposite.

In response to the closing off of a public event by organisers — thereby making a mockery of claims to support freedom of speech — a number of protesters tried to push their way in to make sure their own voices were also heard.

What followed was a classic case of disruptive protest — as limited as the disruption actually was in practice. However, from statements by the student Israel Societies and from one-sided media reports, one would think that a mob of violent Anti-Semetic people had wrecked havoc on a defenseless group of students. Such discourse could not be more misleading. Considering the media circus that has resulted, I therefore feel it is necessary to offer an alternative account of what transpired.

When protesters tried to gain entry, they were confronted by hired security who slammed one individual against the door thereby breaking the glass window. The half-dozen protesters who were able to get into the inner hallway sang songs and made noise just outside the door to the event. Someone eventually pulled the fire alarm.
Contrary to exaggerations peddled by the organisers of the event, chairs were not thrown at any point nor did the six protesters pose any threat to the more numerous group of security and organisers standing in front of the entrance to the meeting room. The so-called instance of hate-crime was nothing more than a mutual conflict between two people who, in the heat of the moment, went after one another. Still neither women were hurt.

Despite the disruption, or perhaps more accurately, because of the limited nature of the disruption, the talk by Ami Ayalon proceeded as planned. Notwithstanding media reports, the building was not evacuated. Soon the six protesters voluntarily left the building to join the larger group demonstrating outside. There remainder of the protest was entirely passive — so much so that a small group of Zionists spent the next hour side-by-side with protesters hoping to ‘educate’ them on what they deemed to be the facts of their God-given right to the land.

Civil disobedience, a concept introduced by author and poet Henry David Thoreau, is a key tactic of those without power who seek to challenge and physically disrupt the institutional violence of oppressive governments and institutions. It is not a fool proof approach and sometimes backfires politically. Yet it has been responsible for some of the most important changes in society from forcing civil rights legislation in the United States to overthrowing Apartheid in South Africa.

When confronted by injustice, violence and oppression, it becomes our duty to disrupt and expose both obvious warmongers as well as the more insidious wolves in sheep clothing such as the ‘peace Zionist’ Ayalon.

As the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes gets taken to task for colonialism and the vicious subjugation of the people of Southern Africa, present-day colonial ideologies must be given the same treatment. People who live by the systematic oppression and occupation of others have no place at our universities.

Jared Sacks is freelance journalist and writer from South Africa and founder of a children’s non-profit organisation.