The Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom visited the London School of Economics for an event on Tuesday night. Tzipi Hotovely was invited to take part in a debate on Middle East peace titled ‘Perspectives on Israel and Palestine’. Footage later emerged showing the ambassador quickly exiting the building and getting into a private car, with a group of protestors shouting behind her.
In characteristic fashion, some resorted immediately to hyperbole. The Jewish Chronicle invoked comparisons to Kristallnacht, or the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, when Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalised Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed an estimated 91 Jews, with 30,000 more shipped to concentration camps. Na’amod, an organisation of British Jews organising against the Israeli occupation, condemned the JC‘s comparison as ‘deeply offensive’.
The Jerusalem Post published an article claiming Mrs Hotovely was unable to attend the debate at LSE. Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader, took to Twitter to condemn the protest’s ‘intimidation and threats of violence’. Middle East minister James Cleverly emphasised the importance of open debate and decried ‘aggressive and threatening behaviour’. The unambiguous implication was that Tuesday night’s episode was a deliberately violent attempt to silence a Jewish voice.
That was not the truth, as established in a statement by the Community Security Trust confirming the event went ahead as planned, that the ambassador spoke without disruption, and that she left as scheduled. A former LSE student who observed the event also showed evidence of the ambassador conveying her views uninterrupted.
It is perhaps unsurprising that a political class hellbent on clamping down on civil liberties instinctively denounced the protestors. But drawing cynical comparisons between a pogrom against Jews carried out by paramilitary forces and with the support of the state and the protesting of an ambassador with extreme views and fascistic tendencies shows the lengths that are taken to neutralise Palestinian solidarity. Indeed, a closer inspection of Hotovely’s history lays bare why her presence was so controversial.
Hotovely joined Israel’s Knesset in 2009 as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. In 2011, she invited far-right group Lehava—a group whose members have chanted ‘death to Arabs’ during their marches—to speak in the Knesset in 2011. Her justification for doing so was that it was ‘important to check systems to prevent mixed marriages’.
In 2015, she was appointed as Israel’s new deputy foreign minister, upon which she delivered a speech insisting ‘This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.’ She was not exaggerating when she described herself as a ‘religious right-winger’. Before coming to Britain as Ambassador, she served as Israel’s Settlements Minister.
It precisely Hotovely’s type of discourse that leads to the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Between 1947 and 1949, over 400 Palestinian villages were deliberately destroyed; civilians were massacred, and around a million men, women, and children were expelled from their homes at gunpoint—an event known as the Nakba. Such facts are researched and well documented, yet Hotovely appeared at a Board of Deputies of British Jews event in December 2020, brazenly describing the Nakba as a ‘very popular Arab lie’.
This was the same Board upon which Hotovely launched an attack before her arrival as Ambassador because they included support for a two-state solution in their 2019 manifesto. According to her, ‘a Palestinian state is a danger to the State of Israel.’
Hotovely’s dogged aggression toward Palestinians is as unmistakable as it is loathsome. Last year, a writer in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described her as ‘an unabashed Islamophobe and religious fundamentalist who denies the existence of the Palestinian people,’ and concluded that she was the ‘worst possible representative’ for the role of Ambassador.
That does not seem to be important. So entrenched in Britain is the desire to curb Palestinian solidarity that an enthusiastic representative of a state found to be committing the crime of apartheid is depicted as a victim—and the Palestinian people, who are the victims of unrelenting colonial violence, and those protesting in their support, become framed as the perpetrators and wrongdoers.
Just last week, Israeli troops murdered 13-year-old Mohammad Daadas for protesting the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements. Five Palestinians have been on hunger strike for weeks to protest their imprisonment without trial. One has been without food for 120 days, and is in critical condition. That is the type of mental and physical violence that Palestinians have to repeatedly endure under the Israeli occupation.
In Gaza, six months after the Israeli army’s remorseless pummelling of the Strip, the residents are still wrestling with the destruction and the rebuilding. The Israeli strikes earlier in the year killed at least 256 Palestinians and demolished countless buildings and civil infrastructure, leaving at least 2,100 homes uninhabitable. The enclave has been under a crippling blockade since 2007, which a United Nations report finds has caused $16.7 billion in economic damage and driven the poverty rate up fourfold.
It should be an ethical imperative to express unapologetic solidarity with the Palestinians who suffer violence at the hands of the state of Israel, and to protest its representative. But this saga has once again confirmed that, to much of the British political class, the Palestinian struggle is irrelevant.