On 31 January, KCL Labour hosted a Port and Policy debate with LSE Conservatives, arguing two motions: “This house would abandon the Rwanda plan”, and “This house would reduce military support to Israel”.
KCL Labour hosted the event, and speakers were from both KCL Labour and London School of Economics (LSE).* The students who spoke wished to remain anonymous, with the chair of LSE Conservatives explaining the bad press they have had from assumed association with the King’s College London (KCL) and University College London (UCL) Conservatives. He stated that the society had no contact with these societies, and that it was important for them to collaborate with KCL Labour to promote co-operation.
Topic One: This House Would Abandon the Rwanda Plan
The first motion was opened by the LSE students in favour. The first speaker stated that the Bill was “not fit for purpose,” an opinion shared by many in the audience who clapped and called “hear, hear.” The second speaker supported this view, adding that the Bill was one of “double speak,” where the government “says an unsafe country is safe,” and officials say that “we must not believe what is said to be the truth” by the UK Supreme Court.
The opposing speakers were initially received with healthy dissent from the audience. The first speaker opposing the motion argued that refugees should stop in the first safe country they enter, and that the UK is usually not the first safe country for asylum seekers. He added that it is unsafe for refugees to cross the Channel and challenged: “What is better – living in France, or drowning?” – a question that caused a lot of laughter in the audience as they joked back to him, “drowning!”.
The good humour from the audience towards the opposition was not wholly extended to the second speaker, who was not born in the UK and had not expected to speak; as such, he had not planned a speech. He began: “I am an outsider…I have not been in the UK for more than four months…[but] I came here through legal means.” As he continued his off-the-cuff speech, he was interrupted by an audience member who shouted, “Why is he here then?” and demanded to know the speaker’s nationality. The interruption caused a stir, and was hailed as “racist” by other audience members.
Topic Two: This House Would Reduce Military Support to Israel
At the switch to the second motion, there was a brief debate over whether the event would switch to Chatham House Rule, however the KCL Labour hosts quickly overruled the suggestion. The first speaker from LSE argued in favour of the motion, expressing his view that “Israel has no appetite for peace,” and that if the UK can stand against Russian aggression in support of Ukraine, the same can be done for Palestine.
The debate switched to the opposition, who argued that the UK should not reduce military support to Israel. An LSE student argued that Israel will not strike hospitals and schools, and brought up the rape of Israeli women on 7 October to make the claim that “Israel cares more for Palestinian wives than Hamas.” This statement was contradicted by another LSE student, who called the claims that Israeli women were raped “unsubstantiated”.
This interjection was met fiercely by women in the audience who were swift to defend the claims, shouting “A man denying rape – no!” and “Rape is a weapon of war.” Although it is difficult to accurately judge information coming out of Israel, there is widespread evidence of gender-based violence during the attacks on 7 October.
The discussion of reducing military support to Israel moved back to the second speaker supporting the motion. The LSE student argued that “Israelis have stolen the holy land from the people who deserve it.” He was not, however, arguing that the land is sacred to Palestinians – the majority of whom are Muslim – but he was actually arguing that the land is of importance to Christians. He stated that Christians have also been affected by the conflict, making the claim that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had “raided Christian churches and killed priests, nuns, and churchgoers”.
He cautioned against supporting Israel, warning that “all of us will be judged by Christ” and additionally made reference to a “Jewish agenda” – a phrase that left the audience in complete disarray, with one audience member declaring “This is deeply antisemitic.” The audience made clear their disapproval by appealing to the chairs to intervene.
When prompted by KCL Labour Chair Nathan Widdowson to explain his comments, the speaker rationalised the concerning phrase by arguing that “Israel is a Jewish state.” After intervention from both the KCL Labour chair and the LSE Conservatives chair, the student retracted his statement.
At the end of the debate, he was requested again, for absolute clarification, to state that Jewish people should not be automatically aligned with the Israeli government. The student agreed, saying “of course not all Jewish people are responsible [for Israel]…this should be very obvious.” It was made clear by both the KCL Labour Chair and the LSE Conservative Chair that antisemitic language would not be tolerated.
Despite certain contentions, there was the overwhelming view amongst both KCL Labour members and LSE Conservative members that the Rwanda policy should be abandoned, and that military support to Israel should be reduced.
In a subsequent Instagram post, KCL Labour thanked LSE Conservatives for engaging in a “respectful but constructive debate on some very contentious issues”.
This may be seen as a reference to the KCL Conservative Association’s contentious Port and Policy event last year.
- * Edited 13/02/2024 from all the speakers were London School of Economics (LSE) students to speakers were from both KCL Labour and LSE Conservatives