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UK university activists end campus occupation following agreement to tackle racism

Warwick students, societies and part-time Students’ Union (SU) officers protested against a talk by a former Israel Defence Force (IDF) colonel on Tuesday afternoon [The Boar/Twitter]

After occupying Warwick University's Student Union (SU) building for a month after a former Israeli soldier was invited to speak on their campus, student activists at the British university have ended their protest after their demands for action to tackle institutional racism were met.

From 19 November, Warwick Occupy staged the protest for 30 days at the campus in the city of Coventry. The activists condemned the university for inviting retired Lieutenant Colonel Eyal Dror to speak "in the same week that over 34 Palestinians were massacred by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF)."

The event, hosted by the Jewish Israeli Society Warwick, gave Dror a platform to speak on "the incredible story of 'Operation Good Neighbour', the [Israeli army's] humanitarian aid operation in Syria, and how nearly 700 humanitarian operations on the Israeli-Syrian border saved thousands of civilian lives," according to the society's Facebook post.

Warwick Occupy is made up of student societies such as Friends of Palestine, Warwick Pride and Warwick Labour, and activists composed and released two sets of demands, one for the university, and the other for the SU. They called for a review of the External Speaker Policy as well as for action to be taken to tackle institutional racism.

The University of Warwick student newspaper The Boar reported that Taj Ali, Warwick SU's Ethnic Minorities Officer, said: "We as students, as the grassroots, need to lobby our students' unions to take into account the welfare of Muslim students, of Palestinian students, any marginalised community.

"We are here to protest against an Islamophobic organisation that has links to the Israeli government; that has funded people who have spread propaganda on campus to whitewash apartheid."

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Warwick SU responded to all 11 of Warwick Occupy's demands "with an overall commitment to changing the culture and processes of the Union to be proactively anti-racist; listening to and centring the voices of our most marginalised student members."

The SU further apologised for "not acknowledging the petition in (their) statement" and stated that it "accepts that the SU could have done more to support students who were subjected to racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and sexist abuse online" and offered an "unequivocal apology to all those affected."

Ali added: "The student movement has a long and proud tradition of standing up against global injustice. This week we have demonstrated once again the power of grassroots direct action. When those in power fail us, we use our strength in numbers to demand change."

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