On 14 November 2023, the KCL Politics Society hosted their annual political debate. A question asked in the Q&A about Israel-Gaza resulted in shouting between KCL Conservative Association (KCLCA) President Isaac Farnbank and angry members of the audience.
The final question of the audience Q&A section asked the panellists of the KCLCA, KCL Liberal Democrats and KCL Labour how they felt about the way each of their parties had addressed the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The Liberal Democrat representatives supported their party’s calls for ceasefire and KCL Labour criticised Keir Starmer for being “weak” on the issue.
During Mr Farnbank’s speech on the matter (see full transcript below), he received some backlash from the audience. At one point, a member of the audience, later identified as Evie Bridges, heckled “Freak!” and “Shame!”. To this, Mr Farnbank responded “Well you can say that, I’m sorry but you’re a teenage girl – what do you know about foreign affairs?”.
This resulted in a huge uproar from the audience. Politics Society Events Officer Govhar Dadashova reminded Isaac that, “Everyone here is a teenager or young adult. We came here to listen to all of you speak, and just as we respect your opinions as a teenage boy, you should respect our opinions. Being sexist has no place in this debate.” Isaac did then apologise “unreservedly” for his “ill-advised remark”, and continued with his speech.
A full audio clip of the exchange can be listened to below.
On the Israel-Gaza issue at large, KCLCA President Farnbank said:
“I thank the Lib Dems for their ambivalence and diplomacy on the matter, but I have to say that all it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing. Hamas have committed the most awful atrocities and anyone who stands with them is an awful human being. I agree with the former Home Secretary that the marches that we see are hate marches… A ceasefire is a terrorist charter, Israel has every right to go in and destroy the military infrastructure, just like we did with Nazi Germany…
The point I was going to make was that there is an awful lot of people who think they are experts on this matter. It is an incredibly complex conflict and we cannot just take naïve conceptions about what we want the world to look like. Of course we don’t want civilians to lose their lives, but let’s also be clear on the fact that if Israel does not wipe out Hamas, the attacks will continue, the hatred on both sides will continue. We have to wipe these people out, they are animals. I’m sorry, it’s a complex topic and I get it, but a ceasefire is not the answer and we have to stand with Israel”.Isaac Farnbank, President of the KCLCA
Roar approached the KCLCA for comment, to which Isaac replied:
“In my opening statement, I stressed the importance of debate, and welcomed the return of these events. I therefore regret deeply that attention has been directed towards one crass and unbecoming remark made in the heat of the moment. I have apologised personally to the individual concerned, and consider the matter closed. The closing vote is testament to the wider and overwhelmingly positive reception that Rishit & I secured. I look forward to future collaboration and engagement with a broad range of political perspectives whilst continuing to stand up for what I consider to be right and true.”Isaac Farnbank, President of the KCLCA
Evie Bridger, the student who was referred to as the “teenage girl” also gave Roar a comment:
“Although the Tory Association President, Isaac, reached out to me over WhatsApp to apologise, and I respect his attempt, I have since requested a formal, more public apology from the Association as to affirm his sincerity. Thus I do not believe the matter to be closed.”Evie Bridger, KCL student
This is not the first time the KCLCA have been in trouble with the student community. Last year, an unpopular debate motion entitled ‘This House Would Restore the British Empire’ resulted in the exposure of division with the London University Conservatives (LUC). “Senior committee members” allegedly called the UCL Tories chair a “weak bitch”, an accusation that KCL Tories deny, during the confrontation over whether the motion was appropriate to be tabled.
There was strong backlash within the student community, with organisations such as Liberate KCL organising protests and KCL Labour refusing to sit at events with the KCLCA. Student communication had broken down. The KCL Politics Society’s annual debate this week marked a shift away from this tension, something which Mr Farnbank lauded as a welcome development during the event.
The rest of the debate’s pre-approved topics included the economy and cost of living, the climate crisis, education, the housing crisis, foreign affairs and migration, constitutional reforms and honesty in politics. The KCLCA were represented by Isaac Farnbank and Rishit Harsh, KCL Labour by Nathan Widdowson and Rosie Kurnaz, and KCL Liberal Democrats by Joep Lahaije and Toby Harvey. The event was hosted on Waterloo Campus and lasted for a total of two hours. Polling at the end of the debate showed that audience members voted for a tie between the KCLCA and the KCL Liberal Democrats.
To read more of Roar’s coverage of student politics, click here. Look out for more upcoming coverage of, and opinion about, this year’s debate.