The Electronic Intifada / February 26, 2021
Israeli diplomat Michael Freeman used two student societies as fronts in an attempt to dupe a British academic into “debating” him.
Witnesses have told The Electronic Intifada his 2017 talk at the University of Kent was “propaganda” and “a well-orchestrated fraud.”
Guarded by personnel from the Israeli embassy, the event was jointly organized by the Current Affairs Society and the Jewish Society.
Professor Glenn Bowman had agreed to a discussion with an academic on the impact of the Balfour Declaration – to “facilitate encounters with experts from a variety of practical and academic fields,” the students initially claimed.
But a few hours later student Sam Williams wrote to Bowman apologizing for their “misleading email” and saying that the other speaker would in fact be Michael Freeman from the Israeli embassy.
Freeman is a career diplomat for Israel who is neither an academic nor an expert. Born in the UK, he settled in Israel in 1998.
Bowman, who is now retired, told The Electronic Intifada that he pulled out after he learned the event was essentially a public relations exercise by the Israeli embassy, and did not attend.
A member of university staff who did attend told The Electronic Intifada that it was “a well-orchestrated fraud of an event.” The staff member spoke on condition of anonymity.
War against BDS
Now an adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry in Jerusalem, Freeman was at that time in charge of leading the Israeli embassy’s war against BDS, the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Britain.
Bowman is a supporter of BDS.
Bowman asked the students for an explanation for the abrupt change. Bowman says he was told by Jewish Society president Chantal Cohen that the group had been “unable” to find a Jewish academic to talk about Balfour – despite having apparently spent only a few hours looking.
The event went ahead on 13 November with Freeman alone. A member of the Jewish Society chaired the event after Gaynor Johnson, the initial moderator, also pulled out.
The event on campus was heavily policed – by the Israeli embassy itself.
Bags and bottles of water were not permitted and had to be left with campus security in another room. Pre-registration and identity cards were required to enter the room.
It was “infuriating,” recalled the head of the Palestine society at the time, a “standard propaganda talk.” “I’m not sure why I didn’t boycott it. Probably looking back I should have.” The ex-student, a Jordanian of Palestinian ancestry, spoke on condition his name not be revealed.
According to a second source who was in the room at the time, “there were a number – I estimate around four or five – of what I strongly believe were private security personnel at the event that had come along with Mr. Freeman.”
The Jordanian-Palestinian student said they had been “official looking men” who were “suited up” and were not either campus security nor normal private hire security guards. They had no IDs he could see. They were “like secret service men” with “a menacing look on their face.”
It is likely they were Shin Bet security agents from the embassy in London.
Israel’s domestic secret police force the Shin Bet says on its website it is responsible for security at its embassies overseas. In 2017, a Shin Bet agent from the embassy in Amman shot dead two Jordanians, reportedly after a dispute over furniture.
At home, the Shin Bet routinely uses torture against Palestinian detainees, including children.
Sam Williams, Chantal Cohen and the University of Kent did not reply to requests for comment.
In 2017, an undercover Al Jazeera series revealed that the UJS receives funding from the Israeli embassy in London.
He is seen attempting to recruit the network’s undercover reporter to work in the Israeli embassy. “Robin” had been posing as a pro-Israel activist within the Labour Party.
At a gathering to listen to a speech by anti-BDS minister Gilad Erdan, Freeman surprised the undercover reporter by whipping out Robin’s fake resume, and discussing the prospect of him working on “the whole BDS piece, doing research into the different BDS movements, who they are, what they are” for the Israelis.
Only a month before his appearance at Kent university, Freeman held a similar event at the University of Bristol, which was protested by students in solidarity with Palestinians.
Last week he told pro-Israel newspaper The Jewish Chronicle of his concern that “Jewish students on British campuses [are] being used as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.”
Events at Kent university in 2017 are a perfect illustration of Miller’s point.
The Kent university staff member who had been in the room told The Electronic Intifada that Miller’s view that students on British campuses are being used a “pawns” by the Israeli embassy was “100 percent true” from his experience of the event.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada; he lives in London