Campus revolt over Gaza spreads in Europe as UK students protest

Activists demand University College London bosses cut ties with Israel in echo of US campus unrest

University protests against Gaza war spread to UK

University protests against Gaza war spread to UK
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Campus unrest over Gaza hit Britain on Friday as universities face a revolt over their ties to Israel.

Dozens of students rallied at University College London, with banners calling it “complicit in genocide” and demanding it “divest from death”.

Under the steps of UCL’s neoclassical main building, students chanted “no more money for Israel’s crimes” and “London students, it’s our time – shut it down for Palestine”.

Activists read out the names of Palestinian academics killed during Israel’s months-long retaliation for Hamas’s attack on October 7.

Students with keffiyehs and Palestinian flags sense a global movement gaining momentum after unrest on US campuses that has also spread to France.

Like their US comrades in tents, activists staged a 34-day occupation of a UCL room that won them an audience with university provost Michael Spence.

On university orders, protesters had their IDs checked at Friday’s protest to keep out strangers – causing tempers to flare with chants of “let us in”.

Students up in arms

The students are vowing to keep up their noisy direct action for as long as their demands are not met.

“There’s lots and lots of support, so we’re really excited about how the movement’s grown,” Rob, a 19-year-old UCL student, told The National over the sound of protesters chanting in the quad.

“We will go through the channels of talking to management, of trying to do things officially,” said the pro-Palestinian protest organiser, who declined to give his last name.

“But we will also disrupt, we will also take things into our own hands. We’re committed to using every possible avenue to end UCL’s complicity with war crimes.”

Student grievances include UCL’s relationships with arms manufacturers and Israeli academics, such as an exchange scheme with Tel Aviv University and the involvement of defence company BAE Systems in an ethics and law centre.

The university has previously clashed with a staff union over what it called "incoherent and disturbing motions" on Israel and Palestine passed at an emergency meeting.

UCL’s careers department “boasts” that many of its engineering graduates go on to work for arms companies, said history student Rob, who said university bosses had so far been “very evasive”.

He said students were “obviously very keen to show our solidarity and support for American protesters”.

“But one thing that these American protesters are very clear on, but we’re clear on too, is the centre of this movement isn’t London or New York or any other city, it is Gaza, it is Palestine,” he said.

“We’re just trying to make sure that we are showing solidarity with protesters in the US but what they’re showing solidarity for are the people of Palestine.”

Protesters in Paris, meanwhile, blocked an entrance to the university Sciences Po on Friday, refusing to back down after a tent “occupation” was broken up by police a day earlier.

Activists at the elite university, whose alumni include French President Emmanuel Macron, said they were "standing on the right side of history" over the war by "occupying the school until our demands are met".

In Berlin, 150 police officers moved to ban a protest camp set up near the German parliament, citing repeated criminal offences. It was not clear whether the activists were students.

Pelosi stunt

Elsewhere in Britain, a visit to Oxford University by former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters who were removed by police.

An activist stood up in front of Ms Pelosi’s podium and unfurled a Palestinian flag from his pocket at the Oxford Union, a historic student debating society.

A group called Youth Demand said that “warmongers like Nancy Pelosi are not welcome on university campuses” as it vowed it would “not sit down and be quiet while these people are given platforms”.

Audience members booed and shouted “get out of here” before Ms Pelosi continued her speech despite the interruption, according to footage posted online.

Outside the venue, a crowd of about 250 protesters gathered chanting in support of Palestine.

Pro-Palestinian student camps spread across the US after Columbia University arrests

Pro-Palestinian student camps spread across the US after Columbia University arrests

'More militant action'

At UCL’s gates, activists handed out pocket-sized papers giving people advice on what to do if arrested (say “no comment”).

A group called Movement for Justice handed out flyers calling for “more militant action”, such as occupying universities, banks and arms factories.

“Youth and students are leading this action and winning the support of older activists and teachers,” it said.

While staff and students rallied inside UCL’s walls, ID checks kept out even the most eager campaigners who had walked all around the campus in the hope of sneaking in.

Activists had intended the rally to be open to all and there was concern that the security barrier was a precedent for curbing student activism in Britain.

Patrick Reynolds, one of those denied entry outside, said students “have been the backbone” of the pro-Palestinian movement in Britain and past anti-war campaigns such as that over Vietnam.

He said the Columbia University protests in New York, which have since inspired similar sit-ins across the US, had “badly exposed” the repression of student activism.

“I think Columbia University overdid it and they exposed themselves. People have a right to protest and students have a right to learn how to democratically protest,” he said.

“I think the student movement is likely to escalate in America, and I think students here have been taking a part and will probably continue to take a part until the war is finished.”

The US unrest inspired by Columbia’s tent occupation has continued to spread, with more than 200 people arrested overnight at campus protests Los Angeles, Boston and Austin.

While the White House has said it backs free speech on campus, senior Republicans have echoed Israeli accusations of anti-Semitism and urged President Joe Biden to turn to National Guard troops.

Updated: April 26, 2024, 5:12 PM