Over 150 individuals protested the invitation of UK Ambassador to Israel Tzipi Hotovely at the Oxford Union this evening by the Union President, Charlie Mackintosh. The protest was being organised jointly by the Oxford Arab Society, Palestinian Society, Syrian Society.
Chants of “Brick by brick, wall by wall, Israeli apartheid has got to fall” and “Oxford Union shame on you”, “Charlie Charlie you can’t hide. You’re supporting apartheid.” could be heard throughout the town centre, even from inside the Union Chamber. There were also chants in Arabic.
The event saw high tensions from the start. At 6.30pm, as the crowd began to gather on St Michael’s Street, police asked the protesters to move back and threatened to forcefully move them if they failed to comply.
“Under what power? We’re free citizens, we’re Oxford students, this is a public street, and we have the right to stand here” one of the protesters clapped back.
The police replied, “We have orders to ask you to move back, and if you do not comply, we will have to use force to move you.”
“This is our right as citizens of the United Kingdom to be here and protest. You’re actually agitating us,” a protester replied.
There were three members of The Oxford Student present at the event, and one of our journalists faced racial profiling by the police in trying to report on the event. All three journalists were questioned, removed from the area, and threatened with arrest by the police.
Protesters further faced what they described as “intimidation” from “hostile” police.
The President of the Oxford Palestine Society, Salma, spoke exclusively to The Oxford Student, “As a Palestinian born and raised in Hebron under Israeli occupation, I was subject to Israeli colonial oppression on a daily basis, from checkpoints and limitations on my right to freedom of movement to daily harassment by Israeli occupation soldiers. All of us Palestinians have friends and family who were killed, imprisoned, or oppressed by the Israeli apartheid that Hotovely is a part of.
“The Oxford Union has invited the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, to speak to its membership the very same week Israeli forces murdered over 13 martyrs in Nablus, killed a record number of Palestinians with 62 killed since the beginning of the year, and launched airstrikes on Damascus a week after an earthquake costing over thousands of Syrian lives.
“This is the second time in a year that the Union has brought Hotoveley to campus, despite the extremity of her support for violence on Palestinian people. She represents one of the most extreme governments in Israeli history. She has repeatedly called for the annexation of all Palestinian land, pushed for the expansion of racially segregated settlements and incited violent attacks against Palestinians, claiming they are “thieves of history.” She describes the Nakba of 1948, during which over half a million of Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes, as an ‘Arab lie’. She is representing a regime of violence, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.
“There are no two ways about this. Israel is an occupation power practicing all different elements of colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and violence in all its forms. As a Palestinian, I feel empowered by seeing everyone today.”
One Union member at the protest added, “The Union claims to be a beacon of free speech but silences Palestinian voices.”
The Oxford Student also spoke to a Jewish resident of Oxford who came to support the event. She said, “I’m Jewish and my grandmother was a victim of the Holocaust but I think you should be allowed to protest.”
Police were recording the entirety of events and confirmed the footage would be used to “gather intelligence on individuals who have turned up”. There were also riot-trained police officers on site.
The protest included a significant police presence. There were over 60 police officers in the area, six police vans, four police horses and a drone. This number increased through the night and the number of police horses doubled.
This is not the first time Hotovely has come to the Oxford Union. She attended an event in Trinity Term 2022 as well where she was interviewed by Mackintosh, who was then the Librarian. This event was also met with protests. The police presence today was exponentially greater than the police presence in Trinity Term, though many of the outcomes like racial profiling and intimidation were very similar.
This comes as there is currently a proposed vote of no confidence against Mackintosh over this event and failure to handle it appropriately in Trinity Term which is in the process of collecting signatures. If it collects 150 signatures, it will then be debated in the House.
The protest ended with protesters walking down George Street chanting “Free Free Palestine”. The police blocked George Street with over 30 officers forming a cordon, including 4 police horses.
In response to the threats and racial profiling faced by The Oxford Student journalists, the Union commented, “We do not control the police or the decisions they make. We have no powers outside the curtilage of the Oxford Union Society. If you feel aggrieved you can contact Thames Valley Police.”
The Oxford Union has been contacted for further comment.
Image credit: Alex Foster.