The visit to the Oxford Union of Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub was met with a student-organised protest on Tuesday evening.
Outside the Union, approximately 100 students chanted “Free Palestine”, “Israel is a terrorist state”, and “Shame on you Oxford Union”, with Taub at times struggling to be heard over the shouting from outside. The protest attracted a small police presence, with two Thames Valley Police officers observing the events.
Flanked by a number of security guards, Ambassador Daniel Taub used his visit to discuss his long experience of negotiating peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Justifying the protest, co-organiser Barnaby Raine, a Wadham second year student, stated: “Inside the Union, the representative of a state that … killed over 2,000 people this summer will be feted as a respected guest, but outside students and residents of Oxford will make their disgust known”. Another co-organiser, Hertford student Charlie Jarvis, described Israel’s actions toward Gaza as a “medieval siege”, stating that Ambassador Daniel Taub was using the Union visit as part of a “propaganda offensive”. Jarvis, an English finalist, continued: “Having arrived on our TV screens over the summer to defend Israel’s attacks, he recently addressed the Cambridge Union and now is coming to Oxford. A servant of such a barbaric state should not be given the respect and honour of a student audience.”
Union President Mayank Banerjee declined our request for comment.
Inside the Union, Taub’s appearance met a far more favourable response. History fresher Alex criticised the protest, stating: “I don’t think [the protestors] should be using their freedom of speech to deprive others of theirs”, later adding “when they’ve worked out how many Palestinian lives they’ve saved by doing this, they should let us know”. Steven, a PPE student at Harris Manchester, described the demonstrators as “career protestors”. Another student present at the event, who preferred not to be named, criticised the chant ‘Israel is a Terrorist State’ as “offensive to millions of honest Israelis”, going on to state: “[Taub] absolutely has the right to speak here”.
The Ambassador mostly discussed the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbours, describing peace as a “series of small miracles” rather than a “utopian signing ceremony on the White House lawn”. Taub finished his speech by criticising the student protestors, describing his “sadness” that the talented and intelligent students chose to remain “outside the room”, a point met with spontaneous applause from the audience.
Whilst voicing regret for the “horrendous loss of life” incurred, Taub also justified Israeli tactics used in its Gaza offensive this summer, mentioning the leaflets and warnings given by the Israeli military before attacks. The Ambassador went on to condemn the Human Rights Council in Geneva as a “travesty of human rights”, criticising the Council for passing more censures against Israel than all other nations combined.
When asked by Union President Mayank Banerjee, however, whether Israel intended to keep Gaza’s economy “on the brink of collapse” (a reference to a leaked Israeli-US exchange), Taub declined to answer.
The Ambassador also criticised the tendency for student activists to view the Israel-Palestine situation as “zero-sum game”, voicing regret that these students often have the “loudest voices”.
The Israeli Embassy in London declined our request for comment.