A university in London wants to stop contact with universities in Israel

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A university in London wants to stop contact with universities in Israel

By Fanny Malinen

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During SOAS Israeli Apartheid Week 2015, students support the Palestinians. © SOAS BDS Campaign

Students shouted ‘BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] yes, BDS yes!’ together in the Students’ Union at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies on Friday 6 March 2015.

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was the first university in Britain to have a vote on stopping contact with universities in Israel. And most students voted ‘Yes’.

After weeks of campaigning, there was a party with Palestinian folk music and Arab pop music. The party continued late into the night. Many students and staff at SOAS have connections to the Middle East.

More than 2,000 students and staff voted between 23 and 27 February. 73 per cent voted yes to stop connections with Israeli universities. SOAS has connections with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Not everyone agrees with the plan to stop contact with universities as part of the BDS campaign. Israeli universities are supported by the state and they support the occupation of Palestine.

During last year’s attack on Gaza, the Hebrew University asked for money for its students in a plan called ‘Protective Edge’. This refers to Operation Protective Edge. That is Israel’s name for the military action against the Gaza Strip.

In October last year, the big weapons company Lockheed Martin agreed to support research with the Yissum Research and Development Company, a technology company that belongs to the Hebrew University. The Hebrew University also has a history of punishing students for protesting against the occupation of Palestine. This happens very often. Tel Aviv University and the University of Haifa have also thanked their students who served in the Israeli military during last summer’s attack on Gaza. They also helped the students with money to pay for studies and helped them to take their exams again.

In the SOAS vote, 75 per cent of students voted ‘Yes’, and 91 per cent of the cleaning and security staff.

It is perhaps most surprising that 60 per cent of SOAS teachers supported the plan. For university teachers the idea of academic freedom is still strong. But in Israel it seems that the universities are supporting the war crimes against the Palestinian people. Study and learning are connected to the military.

The people who disagreed with the vote asked for academic freedom. But there is a problem here. Israel says no to Palestinians’ basic rights. This includes their right to education. Why speak of academic freedom when Israel says no to peoples’ freedom?

The result of the vote does not mean SOAS must take action. The students who said yes to the vote understand the need for the Students’ Union to ask the university management to take action. The Students’ Union wants the university to stop contact with the Israeli universities and its human rights abuses. The action is against universities and not individuals. Students from Israeli universities can work with people from SOAS.

The Students’ Union and the Palestine Society at SOAS also called for other universities to join them. The Union says it will continue to support Palestinians’ rights for freedom, equality, and justice,

The vote by SOAS is very important in the BDS campaign. It says that Israel cannot continue its occupation and military attacks on the Palestinian people.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2015/03/05/soas-israel-academic-boycott/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).