On Wednesday 13 September, the Khalili Lecture Theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) hosted a performance entitled ‘The Lynching’ with controversial anti-Israel activist Jackie Walker. The event was advertised as “a one-woman show” and was co-hosted by SOAS Palestine Society and a group calling itself ‘Free Speech on Israel’. This was the event description on the Facebook page:
“Suspended from the Labour Party and vilified with fake accusations of antisemitism, Jackie Walker tells the extraordinary story of her activist parents in the Civil Rights movement of 1950s America and her own experience of migration and struggles fighting different forms of racism in the UK. This is an opportunity to hear first-hand from someone who has been hounded relentlessly in the media.”
Jackie Walker is a former vice-chair of Labour pressure group Momentum. Although she was described by the event organisers as a “Black Jewish anti-racist campaigner”, she has previously claimed Jews were “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”, criticised Holocaust Memorial Day for allegedly ignoring other genocides, and attacked the widely recognised International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition has been officially adopted by the UK Government and is widely used by leading Jewish organisations.
The above incidents caused widespread outrage in the Jewish community and led to Walker’s suspension from the Labour Party in 2016.
In audio files acquired by Student Rights, Walker equated segments of the Jewish community with racists and white supremacists. She accused the Jewish Chronicle of spearheading a witch hunt against her, claiming that “those people who write in the Jewish Chronicle, who do the harassing, those people, they are not the friends of the Left … these people are often protofascists … One thing I know, the same people who are Jewish essentialists are the same sort of people who are white nationalists – and they are all our enemies.”
Later in the talk, Walker singled two leading Jewish organisations – the “so-called” Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) and the Community Security Trust (CST) – of “churn[ing] out their biased surveys all the time”.
Two spectators that attempted to challenge the speakers in the Q&A session were booed and shouted down by other members of the audience.
These facts raise disturbing questions about the level of approval and legitimacy given to this event. Student Rights has long noted how SOAS has previously hosted a high number of extreme and controversial speakers. This event raises further questions about the potential misuse of academic facilities by external speakers and organisers.
Jackie Walker’s inflammatory rhetoric should have warranted a genuinely balanced platform as well as moderators capable of ensuring that audience members would not be subject to harassment or intimidation. We strongly advise SOAS to not host events of this kind in future.