Student occupations

The recent and ongoing student occupations on University campuses are not being conducted because university officials or lecturers have been using the board rooms or auditoriums as a platform to launch attacks on the students. And they’re not being conducted because the students want to set up home in these places, or because they think they have a right to be there. So what is their purpose – beside the fact that they are fun? Regretfully, this is a too-brief scan which doesn’t adequately examine demands or institutional responses.

A correspondent on the subject of Bradford student occupation observed:

Following a 24-hour occupation of the Boardroom at the University of Bradford, the VC of the University has issued a statement. Apart from setting out a potentially pro-boycott stance what is interesting is that the statement claims that “The University condemns violence wherever it occurs and wishes to express its commitment to the principles of peace, justice and the rule of international law.” That in itself is fine and very honourable. What does not quite fit is that the Bradford University students union have as a heading for their story “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free “.

So, in 2009 it’s still normal and tolerated for what passes as Palestine solidarity to be about eliminating Israel. In the same vein, the occupation at Queen Mary neglected to condemn the targetting of Israeli civilians with Qassams, obliging Jaqueline Rose to intervene with a polite request.

Judging from the posted demands, Gaza protest seems to be a convenient vehicle on which to piggyback other grievances. You can campaign against your campus Starbucks, like Nottingham. Maybe you can negotiate a lasting deal to use some rooms for free (too right), like SOAS. And you can demand that your institution divest from the arms trade, as in Queen Mary‘s new improved manifesto. Then there is the anti-Israel stuff such as “Victory to the Intifada” and the (usually separate, which is illustrative) pro-Palestinian stuff. Then there are some other demands, such as scholarships for Gazans and surplus or “old” equipment for Gazans. These are well-meant and potentially useful, although if you were from Congo, Zimbabwe or Darfur you might be wondering “Why all this effort for them and not me?” and that would be a very good question.

While these occupations have been going on, the Lords Resistance Army has been at work; they have killed 650 civilians in Congo since December 24th to no popular condemnation. In Sri Lanka, combatants are shelling a hospital. Aid workers in Darfur are resigning themselves to a long conflict and no silver bullets. Why do people get so intense about Israel?

Are the occupations basically the same or do any stand out? For example, there are signs of smart boycott of settlement products in particular, listed among the (sometimes wild) Birmingham demands, which is a departure.

Update: Strathclyde has one demand which stands out – singling out Israeli academics: “Oppose Israeli academics who promote military research at Strathclyde University”. In other words, discriminate on grounds of nationality. Other occupations have opposed military presence more generally (Strathclyde is in a group of Scottish institutions providing military education, so this would be unfeasible). Strathclyde also demands 50 scholarships for Palestinian students. I’m not sure how this compares to students from other war-torn countries.

Update 2: Bob from Brockley on Goldsmiths’ occupation. Transpontine, in the comments, is right that the occupations are “overdetermined by anti-Zionism”.

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