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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

What Do Pro-Palestine Protesters Want- and Will The University Listen?

Campaigners have called for complete divestment from Israeli-linked companies and a condemnation of the ongoing conflict


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco


A large Palestinian flag drapped on Elphinstone Lawn
Photo Credit: Fred Byrne

As the pro-Palestine encampment on Elphinstone Lawn enters its third night, demonstrators are increasingly optimistic that University management will acquiesce to their demands. 


Hopes for a speedy resolution were bolstered on Wednesday, as senior managers Debbie Dyker (Director of People) and Jo-Anne Murray (Vice Principal for Education) visited the camp and met with campaigners. 


The Gaudie understands that management has promised to consider the protestors’ demands and provide a response by Thursday. 


A University spokesperson told the BBC:


“Members of the Senior Management Team met with the group earlier today where they received a list of asks. These will be considered by the wider Senior Management Team.”

What are protestors demanding?


A campaigner speaks to two members of senior management at UoA
University management met with campaigners on Wednesday

1- ‘Divestment From Israeli Apartheid’


Protestors have been very clear. They want the University to sever all connections with companies and organizations with ties to Israel, as part of the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement


The University does not directly invest in individual companies, instead participating in a number of pooled investment funds. 


A recent FOI found that the University made 25 transactions with companies based in Israel (mainly for lab supplies) between 2014 and 2022. 

Demonstrators have compared the issue to the University’s move to divest from the fossil fuel industry in September 2021. At the time, the University pledged to exclude companies engaged in ‘fossil fuel extraction’ from its portfolio by 2025. 


AUSA, the University’s student union, passed a BDS policy in March 2019. However, this was overturned less than a year later after a legal challenge from UK Lawyers for Israel.


2- ‘Do Not Renew HP Contract’ 


Another aim of the encampment is to pressure the University into withdrawing from its contract with technology company Hewlett Packard. The contract, which protesters say costs £1 million annually, provides ‘desktop and mobile computing services’ to the University. 


HP has been criticized due to its close relationship to the Israeli state, including the provision of surveillance and identification technology. 


Demonstrators want the contract given to a new provider. 

Campaigners have also called on the University to close its Subway franchise and demanded that the Student Union stop using Starbucks products in the Union Brew and Little Brew cafes.


3-  ‘Avoid Collaboration with Unethical Businesses’ 


Protestors have demanded that the University stop hosting talks and conferences with businesses on the BDS list. They cited the example of Barclays Bank, which recently hosted a symposium at the University’s business school. 


Campaigners say that Barclays funds arms companies whose weapons are being used in the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

4- ‘University Must Openly Condemn Israel’


Those in the encampment want the University to release a statement condemning the Israeli state for participation ‘the ongoing genocide’ against the Palestinian people. Additionally, the University must call on the UK government to ban the sale of arms to Israel. 


5- ‘Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions’


Protestors have demanded that the University cease any academic partnerships with Israeli colleges or universities


6- ‘Call on Police Scotland to End Briefcam Partnership’


Campaigners also want the University to lobby Police Scotland to stop working with surveillance company Briefcam, which collaborates with the Israeli military and police. 


Will the University meet the demands?


University managers have promised to consider the protesters' demands, who have in turn pledged to stand their ground until their demands are met. 


A series of tents erected on Elphinstone Lawn
The camp, as pictured on Tuesday night. Photo Credit: Fred Byrne

However, it remains unclear what steps the University is willing to take in addressing the ongoing conflict in Gaza. A previous statement made by the University in November did not mention Israel or Palestine by name, instead referring to ‘the horrific suffering caused by the conflict in the Middle East.’


Similarly, divesting from investment funds with links to Israeli action is also unlikely to occur. During a financial downturn for the University, it would behoove management not to upset the financial apple cart by making any drastic changes to the University’s portfolio. 


The issue of academic and collaborative boycotts faces a similar challenge, as does that of lobbying the UK Government and Police Scotland. The circumstances of a scenario where the University management accepts such suggestions are unclear. 


While the demand to end the HP contract faces similar issues, a scenario where the University identifies a suitable alternative partner could result in the contract changing hands. The area where protestors are likely to see the most movement is in the call to stop using Starbucks products at Student Union-run cafes. 


The Student Union has already begun work on an ethical framework for engaging with businesses, and student councilors have discussed the feasibility of leaving the union’s current contact with Starbucks. September 2025 has been identified as a possible launching off point for a new, local partner. 


Could Trinity compromise influence UoA management?


A path forward could be found in the example of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), who agreed to divest from Israeli companies on the UN's 'black list' and provide eight fully funded places for Palestinian students.


More than 100 students had camped in Fellows' Sqaure for five nights, blocking access to the college's world renowed Book of Kells exhibition.


Here in Aberdeen, while the encampment has grown over the last few days, it is nowhere as large or disruptive as the camp in Dublin. While senior management could follow TCD's lead, it remains to be seen if the pressure exerted by students is enough to warrant such an unprecedented statement.

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