Essex Students protest the visit of Colonel Richard Kemp

Rebel’s Head of Editorial Thomas Morgan takes a look at the Student protests on campus on the 19th of October against the visit of Colonel Richard Kemp for a Conservative society event.

What happened?

On Tuesday 19th October, students at Essex were protesting an event hosted by the Conservative society, where retired British army officer and political commentator Colonel Richard Kemp MBE was speaking.

Rebel Media was at the Protest covering the event, where many protested against the Colonel’s visit due to his views on Islam, women’s rights and other issues.

A staff member at Essex has defended the event saying that “freedom of speech has been allowed on all sides”.

Protestors staged a “walkout” after securing tickets to the event; however, 22 students remained at the event where they could ask Mr Kemp questions at the end of his speech, and some politely challenged Mr Kemp on his views.

Colonel Richard Kemp’s response

Rebel Media has asked Colonel Richard Kemp to comment on the protests and the accusations against him. His statement reads as follows.


“I am grateful to the Conservative Society for inviting me to speak at Essex and for running a well-organised event. False and distorted accusations against me were circulated in advance of my visit which was used to whip up a protest at the event.

I was pleased to see that Rebel Media made the effort to later point out some of the falsehoods.

The protesters also staged a walk-out during the talk, which was not at all disruptive but was intended to prevent some who wished to attend from doing so, given the limited number of places.”

Colonel Richard Kemp.


The conservative society has told Rebel that they respect “the right to protest” the event and welcome “much-needed conversations on Campus”.
Many of Colonel Kemp’s controversial views are surrounded by the deeply sensitive issue of
Israel and Palestine, a decades-long conflict.

The Protestors sent an open letter to the University of Essex. They accuse Mr Kemp of saying that an ISIS leader has a more “valid” perspective on Islam than UK Muslim politicians.

Rebel has since fact-checked this claim, and it appears it may have been taken out of context. Mr kemp said that the ISIS leader had been educated at a leading Islamic educational institution in Egypt and concluded that the ISIS leader has a more accurate view of Islam than a non-Muslim politician in the U.K.

In suggesting that a terrorist leader has a more valid interpretation of Islam than a Non-muslim
politician, Mr Kemp’s comments could be prone to the implication that the ideology that ISIS
follows is in line with Islam more widely, which is, of course, not the case. The overwhelming
majority of Muslims detest ISIS’ extreme ideology and actions.

Critics see this rhetoric from Mr Kemp as a pattern that cannot be overlooked. In 2018 Baroness Warsi, former Conservative Cabinet minister won a £20,000 legal payout from Jewish news. Mr Kemp wrote an article for the paper suggesting Baroness Warsi excused the actions of ISIS terrorists and claimed Warsi had objected to action being taken against British Muslims who committed murder and rape for the terror group.

Jewish News later accepted the allegations against Baroness Warsi were “wholly untrue and should never have been published”, according to Warsi’s lawyers. Baroness Warsi has condemned Mr Kemp’s words as inciting a ‘divisive debate’.

There were reports that those Protesting outside of the event were chanting “from the rivers to the sea, Palestine will be free”, a phrase the Jewish Chronicle has described to us as a phrase used by those who advocate “the dismantling of the Jewish state” as well as a “Hamas rallying cry”.

This phrase was initially used as a call for a secular Palestinian state; however, it has become a
sectarian slogan used by Antisemites who advocate the eradication of the state of Israel. This does not mean that every person who uses this phrase is an antisemite who advocates the dismantling of the Israeli state.

Palestine, as it is today, is consumed in internal politics between Hamas (a Palestinian militant Islamist group that controls Gaza), which some western countries designate as a terrorist group, and the Palestinian National Authority (the main governing body of Palestinians) who have diplomatic ties with many western nations, both groups control some land in Palestine.

“The protest did not trouble me — except for the well-known racist chants by some of the
demonstrators. Peaceful protest is a right that I fully support. But my concern was that it was
used to discourage those who wished to attend and take part in an open discussion. I was
told by students that some of those who had been at the talk were followed around the
campus by small groups of protesters afterwards which is, of course, intimidating.”

Colonel Richard Kemp

Hamas does not formally recognise Israel’s right to be a state. However, in 2017 it released a new charter softening its language but refusing to recognise Israel’s right as a state, which
deeply offends many Jewish people.

This context matters because you have two dominant Palestinian groups with conflicting views
on achieving Palestinian statehood; generalisations should not be made.

In 1993 the Palestinian Authority recognised Israel’s right to exist peacefully, something Hamas has not done to this date.

Wider Debates around academic freedom

These protests touch on a broader argument around academic freedom and freedom of
speech being had across University Campus’ in the UK.

We have seen similar protests and debates around the fine line between protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech and perpetuating hate and extreme views.

In light of this, the University of Essex conducted an internal review of its external speaker vetting process, which concluded that it must protect academic freedom.

The University of Essex has provided us with a statement, ensuring to investigate reports of
harassment or hate incidents at the protest and maintains its commitment to academic
freedom and students’ right to invite external speakers with a “diversity of views”.

“The University hosts many hundreds of external speakers each year, expressing a diversity of different and contrasting views. These include events, often organised by our students, At which speakers who are well known commentators in support of the state of Israel are invited to speak.

The University takes seriously its legal duty to promote academic freedom and freedom of speech within the Law. As part of this commitment, protests and counter speech within the law are permitted on our campuses.

However, protests must be within the Law and any reports of harassment or hate incidents will be fully investigated and appropriate action will be taken.”

Spokesperson for the University of Essex

What is the context of the issue?

Mr Kemp accuses both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in his Oxford Union address of rejecting all opportunities since the 1917 Balfour agreement to create a self-governance Palestinian state.

Mr Kemp argues in his 2019 oxford Union address that the Arab world is using the Palestinian people’s fight for autonomy as a smokescreen for a century-long war between the Arab world and the Jewish national homeland (Israel).

It is essential to note the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have conflicting views regarding a two-state solution, their positions on Israel’s right to statehood, and how to achieve
Palestinian autonomy.

Successive attempts have been made since the creation of Israel in 1948 to reach a
two-state solution and secure a Palestinian homeland. Still, the historical context is more
complicated than portraying the issue as the Palestinian leadership constantly rejecting the
opportunity for an answer.

The United States, along with Arab states such as Egypt, has mediated in talks over the years
, but some will argue the US (a world superpower) has not been an impartial mediator between these two sides.

The United States exerts incredible economic and diplomatic leverage over global affairs,
and it’s widely argued by scholars that President Clinton came the closest to securing a deal between the two sides.

Commentators have analysed the collapse of this deal as potentially being down to a conflict of interest, given the considerable leverage Israel holds in domestic American politics, with many Congress members who are part of the Evangelical right of American politics.

The Evangelical view is an almost prophetic element to the Israel-Palestine issue. Many evangelical Christians believe God promised the Holy Land to the Jews, which must be upheld.

This belief has influenced successive presidents, mainly on the Republican side, regarding mediating in negotiations over the years.

Mr Kemp’s comments regarding Palestinian rejection of successive attempts at establishing a homeland for Palestinians appear to fail to consider this important historical context.

In 2017 writing in the times, Mr Kemp claimed that ISIS attempted to infiltrate the British army. Later in the same article, he criticised the British Army’s attempts to recruit more Muslims as “ticking the political correctness box”.

This was met with widespread condemnation as Mr Kemp was accused of stigmatising young British Muslims as potential terrorists.

Mr Kemp has 30 years of experience as a high ranking officer in the British Military, in positions ranging from the commander of the British forces in Afghanistan and working in the cabinet office with COBR at the heart of the UK’s national security apparatus. Mr Kemp believes most people in the British Military share his views and concerns.

Mr Kemp criticises the British media as having ‘institutionalised anti-Israel bias’. He
stands by his comments made in 2009 that Israel maintains a ‘moral army’ that has improved in preventing civilian casualties in the conflict.

Many of Mr Kemp’s views and comments over the years may be described as insensitive and
prone to generalisations by his critics. In 2015, he said: “There is an increasing Islamic population in the UK, and the overwhelming majority of them are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic”.

Why tone of rhetoric is important

It is essential to point out we are in an age where in the UK, we have seen a rise in Islamophobic hate crimes in recent years, especially post 9/11 and the rise of ISIS.

We have also seen a rise in Anti-Semitic hate crimes in the U.K., partially due to misinformation and debunked anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that are spreading online.

The tone of rhetoric is more important than ever, and if comments (on both sides of the
argument) are not followed up with sound historical context.

It risks the demonisation of a whole religion and tarnishing peaceful Muslims with the same brush as the extreme terrorists who they despise. As well as encouraging the continuation of anti-Semitism in our society.

Thomas Morgan
tm19047@essex.ac.uk