The pro-Palestine protest outside of the Union Jackson Caines

Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, said that he was “quietly confident” about the possibility of future success in peace talks with Palestine.

Taub was speaking as part of an event held at the Cambridge Union Society, which was surrounded on all sides by members of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, a private security firm hired by the Union and members of Taub’s ambassadorial security team.

Members were only permitted to take their ID cards into the chamber itself, leaving other belongings in plastic bags in a Union cloakroom. Phones and laptops were banned from the event entirely, reportedly at the request of the ambassador.

At the back of the Union building around 50 people protested, banging saucepans and drums as well as holding a banner covered in the names of Palestinian citizens killed in the most recent conflict in Gaza.

Representatives from the university Palestine Society and the Cambridge branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign joined scattered individual protesters from Unite, UNISON and the Stop the War Coalition in the action.

Mr Taub was accused of “mendacity” and of speaking “propaganda”, while placards described him as a “war criminal”. Another large banner appeared to show the names of 1,484 Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, the Israel Defense Forces’s official name for the incursion into Gaza in July and August.

“He doesn’t have the right to speech, not in this way. He needs to accept what he’s done,” said Didem Surensoy, one of the protesters at the event. “Having someone here to speak on behalf of the Israeli government, a government which has supported the killing of children, supported massacres, essentially, of innocent people, is appalling,” said Aya Helmy, of Murray Edwards.

This sentiment was echoed by Nafis Khan, also of Murray Edwards, who said: “The Union’s inviting someone who endorses the terror state, while we as students don’t believe that they should.” She also referred to the heavy security as “very hostile” in light of the entirely peaceful nature of the protest.

The noise of the protest was audible throughout Taub’s speech and the Q&A session which followed. When asked about the recent cancellation of Nigel Farage’s talk during press interviews, Taub described that it would be a “tragedy” for talks and events to be cancelled as a result of protesters.

“It takes effort to create those spaces [for debate],” Taub said, “It worries me when people try to shut down those spaces using intimidation.”

Taub was posed some difficult questions during the student Q&A, including one student asking if he believed in God and how he felt about “the fact that children are dying” in Gaza as a result of Israeli air strikes on UN hospitals and schools.

The ambassador replied that “every death is a tragedy” but that failing to respond to Hamas’ exploitation of UN buildings as storehouses for weapons as “an open invitation to every terrorist organisation in the world to set up shop in every school, hospital and kindergarten.”

The ambassador also described Hamas as having a “genuinely heinous modus operandi” and a “sick win-win scenario” with regards to their winning a “sick PR advantage” from the deaths of civilians in Israeli military action against them, or the lack of danger posed to them if Israel backed off militarily.

He acknowledged, however, that many of Israel’s actions have “very painful side effects”.

Taub encouraged attending students to contribute “positive energy” to the Israel-Palestine controversy, and said that peace was a “series of small miracles”. He described himself as “quietly confident” that the lives of Israelis and Palestinians could be improved, although he emphasised that he was not “hoping for utopia”.

Prior to the Union event, a Cambridge University Jewish Society (JSoc) event was held in the Union building, although Union officials stressed that this was an entirely separate talk organised by JSoc and to which Taub had been invited.

Due to the tight security necessitated by the ambassador, JSoc were invited to use the Union building to avoid more risks by transporting Taub from a separate location, although Union president Tim Squirrell said they would seek some contribution from JSoc towards the security of the event. 

The protest ended entirely peacefully, with students and activists handing out flyers and talking to Union members as they left the building. 

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