Extremism and Anti-Semitism at London School of Economics

When introducing Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) at a recent lecture, Professor Michael Cox said the school invites such guests to critically engage and debate the perspectives of the speaker. And as a university in a democratic society, he said, the LSE must uphold the principles of free speech, tolerance, and pluralism.

However, the school’s administration and student newspaper, the LSE Beaver, have collectively provided an environment that validates extreme, hateful views of Israel while failing to provide a competing perspective. This has provoked not a thoughtful debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict but instead a race to the bottom -- of who can slur Israel the most.

The LSE hosts hundreds of speakers every year from all political leanings and dispositions, but recently its record is questionable with regard to censorship. Last winter it uninvited conservative author Douglas Murray from chairing a debate on the grounds of security concerns, while in 2006 the school hosted members of al-Muhajiroun (who were later banned under the British Terrorism Act of 2006). And according to the Telegraph, in 1995 the school’s Freshers’ Fair featured extremist groups promoting an Islamic state in Britain.

But in this debate the school has not stifled freedom of expression. After all, it did not submit to the demands of professors who wrote to the Beaver saying they were “shocked” and “appalled” by the mere invitation of the deputy foreign minister to campus. The letter, signed by over two dozen LSE academics, scorns the university for giving “extraordinary prominence” to Mr. Ayalon by alerting members of the university community to the event via email. Another professor went so far as to call for an investigation to uncover who invited Mr. Ayalon. Fortunately, the school’s commitment to free speech is greater than that of some of its distinguished professors.

But whatever prominence had been granted to Ayalon by hosting him surely was outweighed by the despicable actions of anti-Israel protesters during the minister’s (attempted) one-hour lecture and the tacit approval of these disruptions by the chair.

Introduced amidst a chorus of boos, Ayalon had scarcely delivered his eighth sentence when various students began shouting obscenities at him and delivering impromptu sermons on their view of Israel. Called a “racist,” “baby killer,” or “fascist” before he had even commenced his lecture, he was drained out by hostile, ad hominem attacks and struggled to utter consecutive sentences for the duration of the event. The event, entitled “The Situation in the Middle East: The View from the Middle East,” turned into a showcase for angry students to vent their displeasure with Israel through vulgar and repulsive remarks.

While Professor Cox attempted to limit the hostility of the crowd, he did not impart a neutral voice into the debate. He somewhat grudgingly welcomed Mr. Ayalon to the stage and admitted openly to disagreeing with him, thereby encouraging the protesters. Mr. Cox exuded a rather cold demeanor relative to his treatment of United States Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano a few days later. Ms. Napolitano was bestowed with a gift from Mr. Cox, who said he was “delighted” to present her.

In stark contrast, Mr. Cox asked students to “boo if you want to boo” at the conclusion of Mr. Ayalon’s speech.