Goldsmiths students occupy university library in latest pro-Palestine demonstration

Demonstrators hung a banner reading ‘From the river to the sea’


Students occupy the Goldsmiths University library on 1 May, 2024, barricading themselves in the building and hanging signs that read 'From the river to the sea' and 'Shut it down for Palestine.' (Photo: Goldsmiths for Palestine)

Students at Goldsmiths have occupied the university library in an apparent echo of the pro-Palestine demonstrations on college campuses across the US.

On Wednesday, students at the south London university barricaded themselves inside the library, placing banners that read “From the river to the sea” and “Shut it down for Palestine” in the windows.

The student-led group Goldsmiths for Palestine posted footage of students entering the library on Wednesday night, writing in the caption: “Goldsmith students manage to get into the library after security attempts to stop us from entering!! We are still in the building and will be staying overnight until management comes to face us. They cannot get away with pulling out from their commitments to our demands."

The caption went on to set out the group’s demands, adding: “We want divestment, more scholarships for Palestinian students, revoking of the IRHA definition of antisemitism and scrapping the protest guidelines and use of bodycams at student protests.”

Students at other top English universities, including Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield, have similarly begun occupying areas of their campuses while flaunting anti-Israel banners and Palestinian flags, leading to government concerns that the demonstrations will escalate to levels of hostility and violence seen at college campuses in the US.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has previously contacted all university vice-chancellors asking them to crack down on campus antisemitism during university protests. Later this month Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due to speak with university vice-chancellors about what they are doing to combat antisemitism and intimidatory behaviour.

On Thursday Sunak’s official spokesman said: “We have always been clear that Jewish students must feel safe on campuses, and whilst our universities rightfully pride themselves on their openness and tolerance and diversity, it is obviously absolutely clear that any antisemitism shouldn’t be tolerated.

“While we firmly believe in the power of rigorous free speech and debate, the right to that does not include the right to harass others or incite others to violence or terrorism,” the spokesman added.

Penny Mordaunt, the Leader of the Commons, said in Parliament: “I think, and I hope, all UK universities will be in no doubt about their responsibilities to all that attend their campuses and their facilities but in particular to those communities that are feeling particularly under attack.

“That is what we expect of them, and we hope and expect that they will meet any such notion of similar protests with an extremely strict response,” Mordaunt said.

Michael Ziff, alumnus and former member of the board of the University of Leeds and Treasurer and Trustee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote a letter to the chancellor and vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds underscoring the need to take action against antisemitism on campus. 

"When members of your faculty, staff and students chant antisemitic slogans and incite hatred against Jewish students and staff, the time has come for you to take a stand, not a political stand, but a moral stand,” Ziff wrote in his letter.

"Antisemitism is not a legitimate cause to advance in academic syllabi, lectures, events, demonstrations, and encampments in the University. Jew-hatred is so despicable. It must not be tolerated.”

In a statement released on Thursday, the Union of Jewish Students said its members are “angry, they are tired, and they are hurt by the continuous torrent of antisemitic hatred on campus since October 7.

“As Jewish students begin their exams, their peers seek to replicate scenes of hatred from US campuses, with protesters already having called to ‘globalise the intifada’, to support the Houthis in Yemen, and to not ‘engage with Zionists’.

“While students have a right to protest, these encampments create a hostile and toxic atmosphere on campus for Jewish students. Let us be clear, we will not stand for this hatred. It’s time that universities took their duty of care to Jewish students seriously.” 

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London said:“From the start of the conflict we have prioritised the safety and support of all students and staff. We recognise that people hold strong views over the war and uphold their right to freely express themselves while being clear about the need to be respectful and within the law.

“We are in dialogue with students over these issues and are fully committed to working together to put in place meaningful support for those affected by the war. This includes pledging £120,000 a year to humanitarian scholarships for Palestinian students to study with us and developing ways of supporting the rebuilding of universities and education in the region.”

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