Wave of pro-Palestinian sit-ins continues

By Simon Friend
February 19, 2009

As the wave of pro-Palestinian sit-ins and demonstrations at 24 campuses around the country recedes, Jewish students are reviewing the situation.

Students at Glasgow, Manchester, LSE, King’s College, Oxford and Cambridge, as well as many others, have refused to budge until their respective university authorities have accepted their demands — mostly comprised of agreeing to set up scholarships for Palestinians, disinvestment in arms companies linked to Israel and the boycotting of Israeli academics and produce.

Concessions were made by LSE and King’s College, as well as the Manchester and Dundee student unions, but on the whole the demonstrations came to an end without success.

Last week, 60 Cambridge academics sent an open letter to Alison Richard, the university’s vice-chancellor, disapproving of the “heavy-handed” tactics used to quell the protest and supporting the students’ calls for disinvestment from the arms industry and scholarships for Palestinian students.

Professor Priyamvada Gopal, one of the signatories, told the Guardian that she believes the movement is the first sign of a new political awareness: “As yet this is a small but vocal minority, but I think we are seeing an emergence from the froth and apathy of the 1990s.”

Wes Streeting, president of the NUS, suggested that sit-ins were “not the right way to maximise support”. But, he said, “had energies been channelled into alternative forms of action, such as charity drives — which do not generate fear and suspicion — perhaps more of their goals could have been achieved”.

Mr Streeting added that he was “alarmed by reports of antisemitism on too many of our campuses. It is the responsibility of us all to challenge this kind of racism head on.”


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