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UK: Cambridge University academics and staff endorse Gaza student protest

More than 1,700 Cambridge staff, alumni, and students have signed an open letter expressing support for the Cambridge students who have launched an encampment
A Gaza solidarity encampment was set up outside Cambridge's iconic King's Parade on 6 May 2024 (Imran Mulla/MEE)

More than 1,700 staff, alumni, and students from the University of Cambridge have signed an open letter expressing support for protesters who set up a protest encampment earlier this week that calls on the university to end any potential complicity in Israel's war on Gaza.

On Monday, around a hundred students gathered outside Cambridge's King's College, where they erected tents and demanded the institution commit to divesting from companies involved in Israel's war. 

They joined students at over a hundred universities worldwide who have set up similar protest movements.

The encampment's organisers told Middle East Eye they are demanding that Cambridge University discloses all its relationships with companies and institutions "complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine".

They said they want the university to end all such relationships, support Palestinian students and academics - and commit to protecting academic freedom. 

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The open letter, written by a group of Cambridge academics and published on Thursday, expresses "solidarity with Cambridge students as they launch an encampment protesting the university’s ties to Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza".

The letter says that the protesting students "join an admirable tradition of emancipatory struggle that includes earlier student protests against South African apartheid and the war in Vietnam".

The academics also expressed support for "our students’ right to free expression and protest" and praised their "courage in bringing urgent debates outside of the classroom environment to intervene in a catastrophic moment where we are witnessing the erosion of human rights and democratic principles."

The letter comes after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak summoned the vice-chancellors of 17 universities to an "antisemitism roundtable" at Downing Street and urged them to take "personal responsibility" for protecting Jewish students. 

A student group called Cambridge Jews for Palestine forms a prominent contingent in the ongoing encampment at Cambridge.

On Monday, MEE recorded a video tour of the encampment led by a Jewish student, who explained that "on my head, I'm wearing a Kippah, because I believe that right now I am carrying out a religious action.

"It is my religious duty to speak out against the genocide being carried out in my name, as a Jew."

Cambridge sent a letter to its students and staff on Wednesday affirming that the institution "is fully committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law and we acknowledge the right to protest. We ask everyone in our community to treat each other with understanding and empathy. Our priority is the safety of all staff and students.

"We will not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia, and any other form of racial or religious hatred."

Earlier this year, MEE reported that Trinity, the University of Cambridge's wealthiest college, had £61,735 ($78,089) invested in Israel's largest arms company, Elbit Systems, which produces 85 percent of the drones and land-based equipment used by the Israeli army.

MEE also revealed, based on information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that the college also has investments worth approximately $3.2m (£2.5m) in Caterpillar, a US-based heavy equipment company that has long been the target of boycott campaigns for its sale of bulldozers to the Israeli army, and multiple other companies involved in Israel's war - including General Electric, Toyota Corporation, Rolls-Royce, Barclays Bank, and L3Harris Industries.

Following this, in February, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians issued a legal notice to Trinity College warning that its investments could make it potentially complicit in Israeli war crimes.

Since the events of 7 October, when a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel killed 1,150 and resulted in more than 200 people being taken back to Gaza as hostages, the Strip has been under total siege and deprived of basic necessities while facing a devastating bombing campaign by Israel.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and around 1.7m displaced, in what has been described at the International Court of Justice in January as a plausible genocide.

Nearly 77,000 people have also been wounded, according to health officials. The figures exclude tens of thousands of dead who are believed to be buried in the bombed-out ruins of homes, shops, shelters, and other buildings.

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