The University of Manchester has come under sharp criticism for its decision to discipline two students for their role in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign during Israel Apartheid Week earlier this month.
Dozens of academics signed a petition calling on the university to withdraw the disciplinary charge against the students who carried a banner which read “Stop Arming Israel”.
Activists say that they were drawing attention to the University of Manchester’s investment in companies that support and aid the Israeli occupation. In a letter, signed by UNISON and nearly 80 academics, campaigners accused the university of “contravening its own Policy for Socially Responsible Investment in investing in companies such as Caterpillar, who supply armoured bulldozers for the Israel Defence Forces, vehicles used to raze Palestinian homes in the occupied territories, and in collaborating with Technion Institute of Technology, leaders in the research and development of hi-tech weaponry for the IDF.”
Activists say that the investments and collaborations by the university lend credibility and infrastructural support to Israel’s occupation; a regime sustained by apartheid, fragmentation of territory for the purposes of segregation and domination and laws directed against one population for the protection of the racially privileged group.
In their response to MEMO’s request for a statement about the allegations, the University of Manchester said: “We cannot comment on internal student conduct matters – however, the university adheres to a publicly available socially responsible investment policy which is available on our website… this policy is managed by one of the world’s leading asset management firms.”
The disciplinary meeting is scheduled for tomorrow but organisers of the protest say that the decision to discipline the students “equates to an attack on free speech and political expression”.
BDS Movement Manchester branch said in their press release that the purported reason for the disciplinary action is that they “were trespassing on a roof during Israeli Apartheid Week”. But the campaigners stress that this was not an isolated incident and point to the routine discriminatory opposition faced by pro-Palestinian activists.
Jess Poyner, universities spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, told MEMO:
Instead of persecuting students for raising awareness of the abuse of people in Palestine, Manchester University should be asking why it is investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses. Manchester is an excellent university; it should be acting and investing in the public good, not supporting those that profit from atrocities.
The letter signed by prominent members of the academic community appeals to the university management team to withdraw the threat to discipline the students; to make swift moves to divest the university from firms that abet the apartheid regime of Israel; and to present publicly the full extent of the university’s financial involvement with companies that invest in Israel.
In its statement to MEMO the university confirmed that “the Freedom of Information requests are both being processed in the normal way, and would be responded to in line with our obligations.”
A protest is expected to be held outside the venue of the disciplinary meetings tomorrow, with an expected attendance of 200-450 people including students and academics.