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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

UoA Calls For Gaza Ceasefire, Rejects Demands For Academic and Economic Boycott

A Pro-Palestine encampment had been established to pressure the University into divesting from Israeli-linked companies and institutions.


By Amelia Boag McGlynn and Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco


Members of Senior Management visited the camp last week

The University of Aberdeen has finally issued a statement in response to the Palestinian Solidarity Society (PSS)’s demands laid out at the encampment on Elphinstone lawn.


University Principal George Boyne has said that a ceasefire in Gaza and a release of all hostages was an “obvious imperative.”

However, Professor Boyne said that due to incoming UK legal frameworks, the University would NOT be able to participate in a boycott of Israeli companies. However, he noted that “less than 0.1% of our investment funds are indirectly connected with the conflict areas.”


University management also declined to enact an academic boycott against Israeli universities, with the Principal noting that “academics and groups must retain academic freedom within the law to progress their research endeavours.”


The statement comes after a week of encampment carried out by PSS in front of Elphinstone Hall at the heart of the University of Aberdeen campus.


Last Wednesday, the camp was visited by members of the Senior Management Team to discuss the important cause, and to receive the society’s list of demands for the university that they have based their encampment upon.


The demands seek to cut any ties the University may have with Israel or companies that Israel is entangled with, including HP, Starbucks, and Subway.


They can be summed up in a simple phrase: “1. Divest 2. Condemn 3. Pledge 4. Protect”, which can be seen written across chalk and posters around the university’s campus.


A University spokesperson said: “The University respects and supports the right to peaceful and lawful protest and has had positive engagement with the group who have been offered support and pastoral care during their time on campus.


“Senior management received a letter from the camp and have been carefully considering the points raised and have issued a response.”

In an extensive response to the campers, University Principal George Boyne said the following: 


“Dear Encampment Members,


Thank you for sharing your passion and commitment in response to the humanitarian catastrophe facing colleagues and families in Gaza. 


We actively support your right to peaceful protest. The killing or harming of innocents, regardless of nationality, race, religion, or any other characteristic, is abhorrent and unacceptable. Our University flag was flown at half-mast as a “peace flag” during November and December, following discussion with student groups, to reflect that position.  


A ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, and immediate support of increased food and medical aid are obvious imperatives. 

We are committed to supporting students and staff who are traumatised by the events in Israel and Palestine, or by any other international conflict.  We simultaneously uphold the right to academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus while having no tolerance for antisemitism or islamophobia. 


In relation to your asks of the University to break contractual commitments and change suppliers, we are required to act within UK legal frameworks including procurement legislation. 

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is in its final parliamentary stages.  When that Bill becomes law, public bodies, when taking procurement or investment decisions, will be “unable to boycott a foreign state based on judgments about a territorial dispute, the status of a foreign territory or the presence of a foreign Government in a particular territory”.

 

We are, however, committed to ongoing development of Environment, Social and Governance principles as part of our procurement and investment processes and we will progress that. I can reassure that less than 0.1% of our investment funds are indirectly connected with the conflict areas, and that amount will fall as existing investment decisions are implemented.


You also asked that the University engage in the call for an academic boycott of Israeli Universities. 


Our relationships with the region are very limited, primarily through individual collaborations, and academics and groups must retain academic freedom within the law to progress their research endeavours."


Following a general meeting on Friday afternoon, the PSS published a lengthy statement on Instagram, excoriating University management's response as "condescending and insulting". Members have vowed to escalate if their demands are not met.


Encampment leaders will meet with Professor Boyne early next week and have said the Univeristy must take action to "ensure they are on the right side of history."

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