The Israeli Ambassador to the Court of St James Daniel Taub spoke at the Durham Union Society on Tuesday 18 November, two weeks before a scheduled visit from the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative.
He addressed students in Elvet Riverside 140 amid tight security.
Taub spoke for an hour on subjects ranging from his experience at the negotiation table to the conflict in Gaza.
Only members of the Union Society were allowed to attend.
Taub told students: “Peace is a series of small miracles.”
He said the trust and hope gained during the peace process in the 1990s had “just dissipated.”
But he said: “Peace is not utopian, not just a signing ceremony on the White House lawn tied up with ribbon.
“It is partial, it is messy, it is not entirely satisfactory. But it is better than before.”
He also added the majority of Israelis want “a responsible, stable, thriving Palestinian state.”
During questions he was particularly outspoken about Hamas and Turkey, describing Hamas as “a brutal organisation that does not have Palestinians at heart.”
In response to a question about the prospects for Turkish-Israeli relations, Mr Taub said that the problems currently boil down to Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Ambassador stressed however that this was mainly an issue with people at the top and that lower diplomatic relations remain.
Throughout his speech, Ambassador Taub continually referenced the “massacre” in Jerusalem. Following his speech, Sky News interviewed Taub after an Israeli-British man was killed in the attack on a synagogue in the city.
Joe Hill, President of the DUS, told Palatinate after the event: “He’s certainly a speaker with a lot of experience in international affairs and it was great to have him.
“We look forward to hearing from the Palestinian diplomat representative Professor Manuel Hassassian on 3rd December.”
Prior to the ambassador’s speech, around twenty protestors gathered outside Elvet Riverside, where they held up signs and gave out free cupcakes.
One of the protestors, Matteo Capasso, a PhD student at Castle, told Palatinate: “It’s completely unnecessary and inappropriate for Durham Union Society to invite the Israeli Ambassador to speak. Israel is violating so many United Nations resolutions and is a colonial power occupying the Palestinian authorities.
“Why was he invited? It shows that there is a big problem in the Durham Union Society. It’s almost right-wing of the society to invite the Israeli Ambassador.
“It’s very sad and very wrong. Other universities and their societies have rules and regulations against any involvement with Israel.”
Aidan Tilbury, a student at Josephine Butler, added: “It was a though-provoking speech. I don’t often hear the arguments from the side of Israel.
“The Palestinian Ambassador’s upcoming speech means that the Durham Union Society is not being one-sided.”
Update: DUS President Responds to Student Protesters:
“In no way do we believe that it was at all inappropriate to invite the Ambassador. We don’t invite speakers because we support their position, as a society we are entirely politically neutral.
“We invite speakers who we believe can share important insight on difficult issues, not because we do or do not support their position.
“If you disagree with what Israel does, then we think it’s still best to have an opportunity to discuss that with representatives of the Israeli government, rather than ignoring them.
“We’re pleased we had the opportunity to hear from him tonight as well as to hear from those protesting.”
Photograph: Venus Loi