Opening last week’s issue of felix, I was greeted on page three by an article entitled “Israeli ambassador’s secret visit to Imperial”. And I’m pleased to say that, on the whole, the article was a very balanced read, just as the event was very civil. The sensitive nature of the discussion had clearly been recognised by felix, and was therefore covered appropriately.
Sadly, however, on closer inspection, it became clear that the article was riddled with misrepresentations of the reality of the situation. I was left feeling that journalistic integrity had been sacrificed for the sake of attention-grabbing quotes.
To begin with, the extracts chosen for emphasis in the article did a disservice not only to the truth, but also to the content of the article. The first extract, “the ambassador likely visited Imperial as part of Israel’s wider anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) strategy,” is more than a bit strange. Would the author expect other countries’ ambassadors not to oppose campaigns to boycott the countries they represent?
The other extract poses an even greater issue. “It is quite worrying that the College did not think to invite an opposing view to help balance the conversation themselves. This would’ve lead to a much more open-minded and fruitful discussion.”
This direct quote from the representative of the Palestinian Society is, categorically, a lie. I personally have two forms of written proof that the Palestinian Society was contacted, by Dr Wraith as well as the Israeli Society, during the early stages of planning the event as far back as October. Furthermore, the fact that the quote was false should not be used to mislead readers – intentionally or otherwise.
Moreover, both the Ambassador and Dr Wraith said very clearly during the visit that the Palestinian counterpart to the Israeli Ambassador, Manuel Hassassian, would be welcome to speak at Imperial. As this talk was predominantly the initiative of the Israeli Embassy, this criticism of the event organisers would instead be better directed at Manuel Hassassian, who would have been more than able to take the same initiative.
Moving on to the rest of the quote in the bulk of article: “…Further still, the fact that the event was not publicised properly… is, in itself, disheartening.” Publicity of the event was a matter of security following recommendations by the police. I do not see any reason that the limited publicity would have caused bias or swayed attendance – neither the Israeli Society nor the Jewish Society publicly advertised it, yet the event was sold out.
It would be heartening if such security measures were not necessary, but as the article helpfully pointed out, the police were anxious to avoid a repeat of last year’s events at King’s College and UCL.
But to say that “protestors on both sides clashed at events with pro-Israel speakers” is misleading. Implying mutual responsibility for the protests-turned-violent-mobs that did indeed occur is unfair and untrue. The violence and intimidation at these ‘clashes’ was instigated entirely by protesters attempting to shut down free speech – it takes only a cursory glance at the ample smartphone footage to verify this. On both occasions, a police escort was required to enable attendees to leave the location of the talk.
My attention was also drawn to two points in the article where the Ambassador’s arguments were unfairly cut short. The first relates to the section of the article about mutual recognition and the Peel Partition. Despite my utmost respect for Dr Wraith, the assumption that his rebuttal was the final word on the matter is misleading. The Ambassador never claimed that the Zionist Commission accepted the Peel Partition plan, as Dr Wraith’s comment implies. He said that the Israelis accepted the principle of partition, while the Arabs did not. The important fact that the article leaves out is that the Zionist Commission empowered its executive to negotiate more favourable borders, but did not outright reject the principle of partition. The Palestinian Arab reaction, however, was to reject the principle in its entirety.
The other point relates to the Ambassador’s view of the UN: “Everyone agrees at the UN it’s always Israel’s fault.” Ending the discussion there disregards what he later went on to point out: “everyone” includes the two previous UN Secretary-Generals, Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan, the former saying that “Decades of political maneuvering have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports and committees against Israel.”
With all this being said, I thank felix for covering such an important topic, and for doing so far more fairly than is often the case. We should be proud that such difficult, yet important discussion can take place so respectfully at Imperial. I look forward to hearing from Manuel Hassassian, and hope that constructive dialogue can continue in such a productive and respectful manner.