Joint UCU branch statement on the Oxford and Cambridge Palestine solidarity encampments

On Monday 6 May 2024, students from both the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge set up encampments in protest at their institutions’ complicity in the Israeli assault on Gaza and Israel’s longstanding violations of international law through the crimes of occupation and apartheid. Since October 2023, Israel’s bombing of Gaza has resulted in a reported death toll of over 34,000 Palestinians. Israeli action has destroyed all of Gaza’s universities, and the majority of its schools. It has also killed over 5000 students, 260 teachers, and more than 94 University professors.

Within this context, our students join their counterparts from KCL, UCL, Manchester, University of Bristol, Newcastle University, Warwick University, other universities in Britain as well as universities in the USA, France, Canada, India and other countries worldwide to demand that our institutions acknowledge and condemn this scholasticide, call for an immediate ceasefire, divest from Israel’s war and apartheid regime, end institutional partnerships and research collaborations with companies complicit in violations of international law including occupation, apartheid, war crimes and genocide and commit resources to rebuilding educational institutions in Gaza.

As union branches representing thousands of academic, academic-related, administrative and professional services staff, and postgraduate researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, we affirm that students’ demands align with the collective policy of our union both locally and nationally. We have passed motions on this issue at branch meetings in Oxford and Cambridge, and many of our members have individually signed open letters demanding action from our institutions, such as the calls made by University of Cambridge staff and students in 2018, 2021 and 2023, and the Rhodes Scholars for Palestine petition at Oxford in 2023.

We fully concur with the statement issued by national UCU in solidarity with student encampments, which condemned the actions of university administrators in the USA who invited militarised police onto campuses and enabled their brutal attacks on students and staff. We urge the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge to ensure that they protect students’ freedom of assembly and expression. We reject all forms of racism and discrimination including antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism and base our calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel firmly on these principles.

Both Universities have long been engaged in research collaborations with arms companies that have supplied Israel, including BAE Systems and Raytheon and with technology companies such as Google and Palantir that provide the infrastructure and services supporting the genocidal targeting of Palestinians in Gaza.  Both universities have created massive, opaque investment funds which have refused to disclose the scale of their holdings in companies complicit in Israel’s violations of international law by hiding behind claims of “commercial interests”. This is incompatible with their own missions: Oxford’s status as a “University of Sanctuary” which commits to “being a place of welcome for people who have been forcibly displaced around the world” and Cambridge’s mission “to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.” This incompatibility must be addressed and rectified: this is why we fully back our students’ demands for disclosure and accountability in relation to the Universities’ financial investments.

We therefore call on the two Universities to take immediate action in response to the demands of staff and students to end investments in, and collaborative research and procurement contracts with, companies and academic institutions funding and supplying weapons to the Israeli military or enabling Israel’s violations of international law through the crimes of apartheid and genocide.

We stand in solidarity with colleagues and students around the world who have taken part in Palestine solidarity encampments, especially those who have faced extreme violence from the police. We condemn university administrators acting unilaterally to change campus rules (sometimes overnight) so as to outlaw certain forms of student protest. Faculty, staff, and students must not be excluded from university governance and decision-making.

We also urgently call on university management at Oxford and Cambridge to meet with members of the Solidarity Encampment to discuss their demands.

Cambridge UCU executive committee
Oxford UCU executive committee
6 May 2024

Please see UCU’s national page of resources and materials for background on the union’s position on these issues including the statement in solidarity with student encampments, and also UCU’s initial statement from October 2023