Protest disrupts lecture by Israeli

March 4, 2005

Academics and politicians have condemned pro-Palestinian students who disrupted a lecture by Israel's ambassador to Italy at the University of Florence.

Twenty or so protesters shouted down the ambassador and raised Palestinian flags and banners with slogans including "Israel fascist". Police removed the protesting students and the lecture by Ehud Gol on "Perspectives of peace in the Middle East" proceeded under the watchful eye of several officers of the Digos political police. A lively debate with the remaining 150 students followed.

Afterwards, Mr Gol said the minority of students who tried to shout him down "exhibited a mixture of hate and ignorance". He added: "They knew nothing of Israel, of Palestine, or the situation in the Middle East."

University rector Augusto Marinelli said: "It is intolerable that inside the university there is an attempt to limit full freedom of speech, that one cannot engage in a frank debate, from differing positions, in a civilised way."

The Israeli ambassador received declarations of sympathy and support from virtually all of Italy's political leaders, from both the Left and the Right, who condemned the protest.

The incident is not the first of its kind in Italy. Last autumn, a counsellor at the Israeli embassy was invited to speak at Pisa University but was shouted down by about 50 students. On that occasion the lecture was abandoned.

Israeli representatives have previously been the target of militant pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Canada. Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking at Concordia University in Montreal in 2002, and last year a scheduled talk by former prime minister Ehud Barak was called off when the university said it could not guarantee his safety.

* B'nai Brith Canada, an organisation dedicated to protecting Jewish rights, is preparing to file a human-rights complaint against five universities - including Concordia - for what it says is their failure to protect Jewish students' rights on campus.

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