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UK’s SOAS suspends students following a solidarity rally for Gaza

October 18, 2023 at 7:33 pm

People carry Palestinian flags and banners as they stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians in London, United Kingdom on October 14, 2023 [Burak Bir/Anadolu Agency]

Members of the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London have been suspended by the university following a solidarity rally for Gaza held last week.

In a petition shared on X, the SOAS Palestine Society asserted that on 9 October, they, along with the student community, organised a rally in solidarity with Gaza and its struggle against occupation.

However, on 12 October, following the rally, several students faced suspensions severely impacting their studies. Moreover, members of the Palestine Society who were not present at the rally received formal warnings through disciplinary procedures from the university.

In a statement to MEMO, the Palestine Society at SOAS expressed its strong condemnation of the actions taken by SOAS management. It said: “The SOAS Palestine Society unequivocally condemns the actions of SOAS management, under the leadership of Adam Habib, who has a well-documented history of student repression. Most recently suspending its own students immediately following a rally held by the SOAS Palestine Society in solidarity with Israel’s genocidal encroachment on Gaza, where over 4,000 Palestinians have been murdered, including over 1,000 children.”

“Our rally was initially held on the steps of the SOAS main building which is where rallies have always been held at SOAS. The SOAS Palestine Society has held a rally there as recently as September 29th without repercussions or complaints from the University. The rally we held on October 9th was no different. We made it clear that we would in no way block access to the main building. We then safely moved off of the steps and onto the green, as instructed, as soon as the fire alarm was triggered. Needless to say, no member of the SOAS Palestine Society was involved in triggering the fire alarm, a fact confirmed by SOAS management.”

It added that regrettably, SOAS is now using health and safety code violations as a pretext to clamp down on “dissent within the university and silence those who have been most active in amplifying pro-Palestine voices on campus. Several students, including committee members, have been suspended from campus, and our committee members that were not even present at the rally were issued a formal warning. All of this is being done prior to formal investigation within the university or a completion of the student disciplinary process.”

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The university has, however, refuted the claims that the suspensions were related to the protest in support of Gaza, saying it took  measures as some students breached an agreement with the executive.

This breach “disrupted our teaching, learning and wider activities and led to a significant breach of health and safety policies and procedures,” it told MEMO in a statement.

It said: “We have a responsibility to uphold our role as a place of academic inquiry. It is not the role of a university to sanction or silence members of our community where some may be offended by their views, provided they are not violating the law or breaching our institutional policies. We fully support the right to peaceful protest and for members of our community to engage in solidarity action.”

“We regret that in this instance despite agreeing an area for the Students’ Union Palestine Society to conduct its rally, the institution’s event and venue protocols were not followed even after multiple requests to do so.”

“We wish to be clear that this suspension pending a further investigation is being imposed on a small number of students not because they engaged in solidarity action, but because they violated an agreement with the executive.”

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