Statement on attacks on Palestinians and racist incidents against our students

25 May 2021

UCL UCU is horrified by the massacre of civilians, and deaths and injuries of medical personnel, the destruction of infrastructure, including educational institutions and hospitals, the forced displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinians, and attacks on the press and on free speech by the Israeli state in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

As is now well-documented, the raid on the Al Aqsa mosque and ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah initiated this new phase of violence in Israel and Palestine. The onslaught on Palestinians in Gaza has had casualties on both sides, but the consequences have been overwhelmingly suffered by Palestinians: massacres, including of over 60 children sheltering in their homes, displacement of thousands, homelessness, traumatizing of civilians, are all international crimes masquerading as self-defence. Even after the formal cease fire, ethnic cleansing, attacks on civilians, and mass arrests continue relentlessly.

We stand with our sister Trade Unions in Palestine who have called on us not to be silent but to show our solidarity.

UCL UCU also notes UCL’s institutional ties and investments in companies that are complicit in grave breaches of international law carried out by the Israeli government towards the Palestinians. According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, these amount to £5,557,352 of investments. The Provost has promised to review UCL’s investments, and we note that UCL has already divested from fossil fuels. It is time to look at complicity with other large-scale human rights violations, in accordance with UCL’s own policy.

During the Black Lives Matter movement last year, UCL rightly made supportive statements. UCL cannot be neutral on mass violations of human rights, massacre, and ethnic cleansing. We call on Management to recognise these baselines, listen to the voice of Palestinian students and staff and defend their free speech and academic freedom. We have heard of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism being cited in complaints against staff for speaking out on this issue - a definition roundly rejected by the Academic Board for its curtailment of free speech on precisely these matters.

We also note and applaud the ethically lucid internal messages from different sections of the UCL community (from the Anthropology Racism Committee and from the Department of Geography) on these events and encourage others to adopt their own statements.

At the same time, we are very concerned to hear that some or our students have faced antisemitic abuse and even threats of violence (as reported by the Provost on 17 May 2021), whilst others have faced anti-Muslim racism. We deplore these threats and intimidation. We utterly reject and condemn antisemitism towards Jewish students or staff at UCL or anywhere else. Opposition to the actions of a state is never an excuse for racism.

The law is clear. The Equality Act prohibits discrimination and harassment, and incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offence. We call on colleagues to be vigilant in challenging all forms of racism or discrimination and in supporting any of our students subjected to this kind of abuse.