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Protest at Israeli Ambassador’s talk

Image: Megan Davies

A group of protesters, many from Friends of Palestine, held a silent demonstration during a talk by Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev earlier tonight.

Among them was Malaka Shwaikh,the Students’ Guild’s Vice-President Postgraduate Research, although not in her capacity as sabbatical officer.

After standing in the second row holding Palestinian flags and signs, they left of their own accord with shouts of “Free, free Palestine”.

The protest was silent, simply blocking the view of those in the rows behind the protesters. The Ambassador continued his talk continued during the protest.

A large number of seats were left empty following the protesters leaving. Exeter Friends of Palestine said that “out of respect to every individual’s right to freedom of speech – however vile – Exeter FOP did not attempt to prevent Regev from proceeding.” They linked him to alleged Israeli war crimes which “he both stands and covers for”, adding that “while Regev now tours UK university campuses trumpeting the wonders of Israeli “democracy”, millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories are denied basic human and civil rights”.

Benjy Zeffert, President of Exeter University Friends of Israel, told Exeposé: “At the start, we saw protesters stand up, but we quickly saw the Ambassador shut them down. They weren’t listening, but if they had listened, they would have seen the Ambassador answer every single point that they were clearly trying to make with their signs. I would call that a complete success. Everyone else who was listening would have seen that they’d been mugged off for 15 minutes, and then they walked out when the Ambassador was going to answer loads of questions. So it was, to be honest, a nothing to us. It didn’t mean anything to us. They didn’t do themselves justice and I thought the Ambassador spoke really well.”

He added that “the Ambassador put it brilliantly, which is the whole point about why Israel is so unique in the Middle East is because of free speech”, citing countries where a demonstration would not have been allowed to happen.

The Ambassador continued speaking, but addressed the protest, calling it “cowardly”, and claimed that their stance was not helpful for the people of Palestine. He also criticised other Middle Eastern countries for lacking freedom of speech.

The event, held by Friends of Israel society, was deemed a success by the organisers, who said that they thought this was the largest attendance they had ever achieved. Zeffert said “Overall, it was a really successful event, I think everybody enjoyed it. We got loads of people – I think our biggest attendance ever. I’m really happy.”

A Guild Spokesperson told Exeposé that: “the Students’ Guild respects the right to freedom of speech and are glad those involved in the protest, acting in their individual capacity, were able to do so in a way that was peaceful and respectful to the students who had organized the event and their guest.”

The Ambassador told Exeposé: “I was delighted to speak at Exeter University and enjoyed engaging with such a large group of students. The peaceful protest reminded me of what regularly occurs on Israeli university campuses where freedom of speech is sacrosanct – a reality which is non-existent at academic institutions across the length and breadth of the Middle East.”

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Second-year English student and one of two Print News Editors.