Kicking off Israeli Apartheid Week, pro-Palestine students at one of the most prestigious universities in London claim they were barred from campus during the Queen’s visit.
At least ten King’s College London students came forward saying they were blocked from attending classes, exams and work on 19 March due to their political activity. Students affected were predominantly women of colour and core campaign organisers, including from the university’s Action Palestine Society.
The Queen stepped out with the Duchess of Cambridge on Tuesday to open Bush House, a refurbished building previously functioning as BBC World Service’s headquarters.
Absolutely disgusted that KCL politically profiled students and blocked their ID cards, preventing them from entering the university purely because the Queen is visiting. @kclsu what are you doing to protect students?
— KCL Action Palestine (@KCLAP) March 19, 2019
Also extremely worried that KCL have given the names of these students to the Met Police. Once again @kclsu what are you doing to protect these students? Giving out the names of students is a direct threat to student safety.
— KCL Action Palestine (@KCLAP) March 19, 2019
Action Palestine Society president, who did not wish to be named, said she tried tapping her student ID to enter campus three times, but her card failed to work.
“So I went to the receptionist and said, ‘Have I been profiled?’ And he said, ‘yes’.”
When confronting the Head of Security, she was told students’ information was passed onto the Metropolitan Police and that the police requested the university deny the students access.
“Vague justifications offered by security suggested that the Metropolitan Police had advised the University to ban all students that could be considered a security threat,” a joint statement from KCL Justice for Cleaners, a workers’ rights campaign for cleaning staff, and Action Palestine Society, said.
When asked to corroborate this information, The Metropolitan Police told MEMO they “do not discuss matters of security”.
Students now claim their activity is consistently tracked by university authorities in an attempt to blacklist them.
Security told us they had been monitoring students who attend protests on campus. They actually took pictures of us from CCTV and identified us through our student IDs and then decided who would be allowed access and who wouldn’t be allowed access
Action Palestine Society president said.
The security guard that came said that the Met Police has provided names of people that should be blocked. Where did the police get these names from? This student had never been arrested and based on other convos I had with people neither had anyone else.
— K (@khadiza__) March 19, 2019
KCL university staff did not return a request for comment at the time of writing, but the institution said in a statement some facilities were not accessible because of the royal visit’s heightened security.
“We had an event today which demanded the highest level of security and we had to minimise movement through buildings for security reasons,” King’s College London said on Twitter. “At times some of our buildings were not accessible.”
We had an event today which demanded the highest level of security and we had to minimise movement through buildings for security reasons. At times some of our buildings were not accessible.
— King's College London (@KingsCollegeLon) March 19, 2019
The students affected sent a formal complaint to the university and are waiting for KCL to give them a direct response before taking further action.
KCL Students’ Union said they have reached out to the school, demanding an explanation.
“It is concerning if students are being placed under surveillance by their university – this is a place of learning, not a police state, and surveillance has a chilling effect on students’ freedom of expression. It is especially concerning to us if students of colour are disproportionately being surveilled and profiled as a security threat,” the student representatives said.
Students demonstrated at the Strand campus on 20 March in response to the escalated security and alleged surveillance. Students unfurled banners, waved the Palestinian flag, fired off red and purple flares and chanted “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” referring to campus access. The demonstration coincided with “Apartheid Off Campus”, a national day of action for students to call on their universities to divest from companies associated with Israel.
“I think it’s highly inappropriate and disgusting of KCL to profile so many Muslim women of colour only a few days after the Christchurch shooting,” Action Palestine Society president said during the protest.
Yet she emphasises that the alleged crackdown has only made student activists impacted more determined to have their voices heard.
“We will not allow our university to silence us for standing for social justice,” the Action Palestine Society president asserted. “It is absolutely disgusting that this university makes money off Desmond Tutu’s legacy of being an anti-apartheid activist and at the same time profiles and shuts down students who do the same today.”
Jessica Buxbaum is a freelance journalist covering Israel-Palestine and pursuing a Master’s degree in International Journalism at City, University of London. You can reach her on Twitter @jess_buxbaum.