Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland library staff threatened over honouring former Israeli president

By Rebecca Black

Online attacks on a Belfast library over its hosting of an event marking the centenary of the birth of a former President in Israel have been condemned.

Staff at the Linen Hall Library also received a number of threatening phone calls following the event on March 13.

The library described the event as "focusing on an item of Belfast's history and the centenary year of the birth of former Israeli President Chaim Herzog".

It was organised by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, and attended by the Ambassador of Israel Mark Regev amongst others.

Mr Herzog was born in Belfast in 1918, and went on to become the sixth President of Israel in 1983. During the event, books relating to the Herzog family were presented to the library.

But it sparked fury on social media, and even an online petition titled: "No more war criminals or apologists for genocide in the Linen Hall library".

The petition demanded the suspension of the director of the library as well as an investigation. "This whole seedy episode goes against everything the Linen Hall has stood for. We demand the immediate suspension of director Julie Andrews and an investigation into how this was allowed to happen, we also demand an apology to the indigenous Palestinian victims for this outright support for a war criminal," the petition reads.

There is no suggestion that anything untoward was done or said at the event.

A representative body for the Jewish Community in the UK, the Board of Deputies, described the attacks as "vile".

It described some of the negative reaction to the event as "totally unacceptable", adding that it "flies in the face of efforts to make Northern Ireland an inclusive society where different communities can express their identity and heritage freely".

Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron said: "Sadly there are those who want to import the extremism and conflict of the Middle East into our cultural life.

"As the representative body of the Jewish community in the UK, we call upon elected representatives from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland to condemn this targeting of the Linen Hall library, which is acknowledged as a beacon of light and a meeting place for diverse community groups."

DUP, UUP and Alliance MLAs have also expressed their disgust.

DUP MLA Peter Weir said: "It is very disturbing to see the vile torrent of vicious abuse aimed at the library and its staff through social media." Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken, who attended the event, added: "It is downright despicable that are those within our society who still seek to shut down free speech and use vile bullying tactics to try and achieve their aims." Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said: "In a free society, people of all faiths and beliefs should be able to celebrate those beliefs and their history without hindrance."

A library spokesman said: "The Linen Hall Library is a wholly neutral, non-partisan charitable organisation. We welcome people of all cultures, nationalities, political affiliations and persuasions, and religions. We are open to considered and constructive conversation, opinion and debate."

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