Echoing US encampments, anti-Israel students across Britain launch campus protests

UK activists are pitching tents to call on their universities to divest from Israel; Union of Jewish Students protests ‘torrent of antisemitic hatred on campus’

Students protest the war in Gaza at the University of Cambridge, UK. Protests have sprung up in Britain following the latest crackdowns on pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel student protests in the US. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Students protest the war in Gaza at the University of Cambridge, UK. Protests have sprung up in Britain following the latest crackdowns on pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel student protests in the US. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Pro-Palestinian students across the United Kingdom began holding anti-Israel protests and sit-ins at campuses Wednesday, driven by solidarity with similar encampments across the United States and by outrage at the arrests at Columbia University in New York and the violent crackdowns at UCLA in Los Angeles, British media reported.

At Goldsmiths, University of London, pro-Palestinian protesters barricaded themselves in the library Thursday and placed “From the river to the sea” and “Shut it down for Palestine” banners in the windows, according to The Telegraph.

Earlier in the day, a 24-year-old Goldsmiths student named Samira, a member of Goldsmiths for Palestine, told The Independent: “I think a lot of people are really inspired by what’s going on in the US. We feel a duty as students to come out and protest when you’re seeing like, fellow students in the US… smashed up by riots, and all of that, but, yeah… I think people are really inspired.”

Responding to the phenomenon, the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which represents 9,000 Jewish students in the UK and Ireland, issued a statement on Thursday saying: “Jewish students are angry, they are tired, and they are hurt by the continuous torrent of antisemitic hatred on campus since October 7… Let us be clear, we will not stand for this hatred. It is time that universities take their duty of care to Jewish students seriously.”

The UJS statement added that as Jewish students were about to undertake their exams, their peers “seek to replicate scenes of hatred from US campuses, with protesters already having called to ‘globalize the intifada’ to support the Houthis in Yemen and to not ‘engage with Zionists.’”

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UK Lawyers for Israel, told The Daily Mail that the universities “should take immediate legal action to remove these encampments before Jewish and other students are harassed and excluded.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said Thursday: “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.”

However, protests and encampments have continued to sprout throughout the country. Students at the University of Bristol said they were protesting their university’s “complicity in Israel’s genocide of Palestinians,” while also calling for a ceasefire.

A group in Sheffield called the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine held demonstrations, staged a mass walkout from classes and set up an encampment outside the student union on Wednesday. One student told The Guardian: “We’ve come prepared for the South Yorkshire weather. We’ve got gazebos and picnic tables and a generator for power. We’ll stay indefinitely until the university meets our demands.”

At the University of Leeds, students also said they planned to remain indefinitely outside their student union until the university was “longer complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.” On Thursday afternoon, the students staged a sit-in on campus. Online footage shows the students entering a building, holding banners and chanting slogans to “end the occupation.”

In Newcastle, a group called Newcastle Apartheid off Campus, which bills itself as a “student-led coalition fighting for an end to Newcastle University’s partnership with defense companies supplying Israel,” announced on X Wednesday that “students from Newcastle Apartheid off Campus have set up an encampment on Newcastle University’s main campus to highlight the institution’s investment strategy and its complicity in the Israeli military’s war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The organization claims that Newcastle University signed a deal with Italian defense and security company Leonardo SpA, which they say sells military components and machinery to Israel, and that the company is helping to develop “missile targeting systems that are being used to bomb Gaza.”

Manchester University has ties with both Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Students there called on the university to sever those ties and halt all “unethical research.” They also demanded the university end its partnership with BAE Systems and other arms companies.

Manchester University Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Hackett said that while it recognized that students had the right to protest, the university would do everything to maintain “business as usual.” However, he said, encampments on the premises were not only a potential health hazard, but ultimately an “unauthorized and unlawful use of the university’s campus.”

As the student protests continue, a spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents 142 institutions in the country, told The Guardian: “Universities are monitoring the latest news on campus protests in the US and Canada. As with any high-profile issue, universities work hard to strike the right balance between ensuring the safety of all students and staff, including preventing harassment, and supporting lawful free speech on campus. We continue to meet regularly to discuss the latest position with university leaders.”

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