EXCLUSIVE: Top British arts university in hot water over ‘unlawful’ BDS calls

The Royal College of Art's School of Architecture has committed to supporting calls for BDS and refusing to engage with with 'entities that enact or implement Israel’s apartheid policies'


One of Britain’s most prestigious arts universities has acted unlawfully by calling to support BDS and pro-Palestine activism, according to legal experts. 

The Royal College of Art’s School of Architecture has signed and promoted an open letter describing Israel as a “settler colonial state” destroying “indigenous Palestinian lands”.

The letter – signed by more than 270 architecture schools, departments and academics worldwide – commits to supporting calls for BDS and “student, faculty and staff activism for justice in Palestine.”

It also pledges to refuse engaging in partnerships “with entities that enact or implement Israel’s apartheid policies”.

Under UK charity law, universities and colleges are barred from conducting political campaigns outside their charitable objectives. 

According to the charity UK Lawyers for Israel, implementation of some actions listed in the open letter could also contravene British equalities law. 

The RCA’s School of Architecture has made three posts on its official Instagram account promoting the open letter. 

However, in at least the last three years the account has not promoted political campaigns targeting any other individual country. 

In the past year alone on Instagram the school has advertised talks about China and Chinese academics. Yet, of these posts none mention human rights violations in the authoritarian state, nor the plight of Uighur Muslims. 

A spokesperson for UK Lawyers for Israel told the JC: “In issuing this partisan and inflammatory statement and promoting it on social media, the School of Architecture of the Royal College of Art is conducting a political campaign outside its charitable objects of advancing learning, knowledge and professional competence. This is unlawful. 

“Students and staff have freedom of speech, but the institution itself must not conduct any form of political activity except to promote its charitable purposes. 

“In addition, implementation of some parts of this statement, such as BDS, would constitute unlawful discrimination contrary to the Equality Act. The statement also appears to restrict freedom of speech by requiring staff to “centre Palestinian scholarship and experience” in their teaching even if they do not think it is relevant. 

“If the statement is not withdrawn, we will take it up with regulators.”

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Art said: "While we note the open letter posted on the RCA Architecture account denounces antisemitism, the views expressed in it will divide opinion.

"The RCA, like all universities, remains steadfast in its support of free speech and stands against racism and discrimination in all its forms.

"The post contains some breaches of the RCA social media guidelines for staff and students and will be edited to correct this fact. The views were expressed as personal opinion and are not an expression of the views of the RCA.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive