American-Israeli activist, Miko Peled, compared Zionists to Nazis in a controversial talk on Friday 10th November at University College London (UCL).
The talk was titled “Segregated and Unequal, Palestinian Life in Apartheid Israel”. Though it was organised by UCL Friends of Palestine Society, it had the backing of pro-Palestinian student societies at various London universities, namely City, Imperial, Kings College, Queen Mary and Westminster.
Following approaches from concerned Jewish students at UCL, Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote to the UCL administration prior to the event to raise our concerns about Mr Peled and to call for the event to be cancelled. We demonstrated that Mr Peled’s views have, in the past, engaged the International Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the British Government, and also engage the Prevent counter-extremism strategy.
In response, a university official assured us that: “In discussion with officers in the Union it has been agreed that the event will go ahead. Mr Peled has agreed to abide by the Union’s Code for speakers, and the event will be chaired by an independent student officer. I understand the concerns you express but we believe that the arrangements we have put in place strike the right balance between compliance with our legal obligations to secure freedom of speech, other legal obligations and our responsibilities towards our students.”
Sadly our concerns and those of the students were proven to be correct.
Volunteers from our Demonstration and Event Monitoring Unit went to the talk to gather evidence.
During the question and answer session, Mr Peled compared Zionists to Nazis. He said: “Would we allow members of the KKK to come and explain to us why racist laws are the right thing to do? Would we allow Nazis to come here and tell us that Jews belong in concentration camps and just explain themselves? On that same token, Zionism which is a racist, brutal ideology, has been involved in genocide for seven decades and has been responsible for the murder and suffering of an entire nation for seven decades. I believe they can talk all they want, they do not deserve a platform.” This was met with rapturous applause from the audience.
He mocked and disputed antisemitism in the Labour Party, saying that in the last two years there has been a “witchhunt against antisemites and Holocaust deniers, many, most, if not all of whom happen to be Corbyn supporters and sympathisers with the Palestinian cause. Interesting coincidence.” He added: “You put away the nonsense about Holocaust denying and the nonsense about the antisemitism. In cases like this, when they’re not, where it’s not made obviously.”
Mr Peled said that his 2016 tweet that “Jews have a reputation for being sleazy thieves” had been taken out of context. He said that he was not accusing Jews of this behaviour but in regards to this antisemitic trope, “the State of Israel is enforcing it.” He explained that the aid provided to Israel by the US Congress “was exactly why Jews have a reputation for being sleazy thieves.” He stated that “my criticism was against the State of Israel, which do [sic] behave like sleazy thieves and worse and because they claim that they represent Jews, the conclusion must be there.” He concluded that “you can’t complain that there is antisemitism and that people make all these, you know, sic characteristics about Jews, racist slurs about Jews, and then behave in this particular way.”
During the question and answer session, a member of the audience said that “Washington is colonised by AIPAC”, a comment which went unchallenged by the moderator, the independent student officer. AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying organisation.
In September, Mr Peled made national headlines by demanding at the Labour Party Conference that delegates should have the freedom to engage in debate as to whether the Holocaust actually happened at all. He said that people should be free to ask “Holocaust, yes or no” because “there should be no limits on the discussion.” He additionally reportedly proposed that Israelis should be treated like Nazis. He was widely condemned.
This event should not have gone ahead. If you wish to raise concerns with University College London, please use the university’s complaints process.
If you are aware of a problematic speaker being invited to speak at a university, please contact [email protected].