Students Confront University’s Complicity in Israeli Apartheid

Student activists at the University of Sheffield have launched protests, including an encampment and walkout, to condemn the university's ties to arms manufacturers and complicity in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and the oppression of Palestinians. By Simon Pearson


“The fig leaf has fallen, revealing the University of Sheffield not as an academic institution but rather as a brazen hub for weapons manufacturers.” So declared student activists as they launched an encampment and walkout to protest the university’s ties to the arms trade and the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Students protesting at Sheffield University, banner says: "Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine."

Drawing inspiration from the wave of campus occupations sweeping the United States, the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine (SCCP) has united students, staff, and community allies in a powerful stand against their institution’s complicity in Israeli apartheid. “Most egregiously,” the coalition states, “the University has been found to have helped streamline and produce the very instruments of warfare Israel used in its ruthless and indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza. It is for that reason that we students have come to charge the university with complicity in the genocide of the Palestinians.”

The protests have laid bare the deep entanglement of the University of Sheffield with the military-industrial complex. Activists point to the £72 million the university has taken from arms dealers over the past decade and the critical role its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre has played in providing components for F-35 fighter jets used by Israel. “The University as an institution and indeed academia as a whole purports to be an egalitarian haven, somehow outside of the ‘real world,’ benighted and innocent,” argue the student activists. “This, of course, has only made it more effective as a conduit of oppression.”

IAF F-35I Adir on its first flight with the Israeli Air Force, 13 December 2016
IAF F-35I Adir on its first flight with the Israeli Air Force, 13 December 2016

Demonstrators are demanding the university divest from weapons manufacturing, cut ties with Israeli academic institutions that are “pillars of Israel’s system of oppression against Palestinians,”  and agree to a meeting with students and staff to be held accountable. Their call has been backed by local unions, Palestine solidarity campaigners, and Jewish anti-Zionist groups. “Sheffield Jews Against Israeli Apartheid welcomes the May Day walkout by Sheffield University students in solidarity with Palestinian people,” the group said in a statement. “We support their actions and call on all students and staff to do so and resolve to hold their University to account for its complicity with the genocide perpetrated by Israel in Palestine.”

Staff have also spoken out in support of the protests. “I am proud to see our students taking a stand and joining this worldwide movement against the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” said Dr. Lisa Stampnitzky. “Our university needs to confirm its commitment to be an ethical institution and divest itself of ties to the development of weapons used to perpetrate atrocities.”

The student activists are determined to sustain their struggle until the university concedes to their demands. “We, as students of the University of Sheffield, will not sit idly by and watch our institution wreak havoc in Palestine and across the Global South,” they avow. “We will continue to take action on campus, regardless of reprisal or repression, without hesitation or fatigue… Until the University of Sheffield stands in active solidarity with Palestine, until Palestine itself is liberated from the violence of neo-colonialism, we will fight.”

With their militant encampment, the students of Sheffield have thrown down the gauntlet to an administration mired in the profits of colonial bloodshed. They have staked out a clear line of demarcation: stand with the oppressed and occupied, or be exposed as partners in their subjugation. It is a clarion call for all people of conscience to join the struggle against apartheid and for a free Palestine, from the campuses to the streets.

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Simon Pearson is on the Editorial Board of the Anti*Capitalist Resistance and is a Midlands-based political activist.

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