Students Write Open Letter Asking University to “Condemn Israeli Apartheid”

Students, staff and societies have come together in an open letter to University leadership, asking for more action on the Israel-Gaza conflict

(Image: York Vision)

Students and staff have written an open letter to Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffrey and other senior university staff demanding that the University of York “condemn Israeli apartheid”. Announced on Friday the 15th of December, the letter has been signed over 40 student societies and hundreds of individual students in the days since. The letter was also signed by the YUSU Officer’s Group over the weekend.

The letter was first shared by the collaborated Instagram post by the University of York’s Palestinian Solidarity Society, Feminist Society, YUSU BAME Network, Islamic Society, BritAsian Society and University of York Amnesty outlined student demands to address the violence in Gaza.

Their post read: “We students, student societies, faculty, staff and alumni, call upon the University of York’s vice chancellor to act against the ongoing genocide enacted by Israel against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

The letter lists specific areas where they would like to see change. First is a request that the university divest from companies “complicit in the occupation of Palestinian people”, claiming that “as of July 2022, University of York has over £30,000 invested in Israeli Apartheid”.

They also ask the university to cut ties with BAE systems weapon manufacturer, who were invited to the university careers fair earlier this year. “BAE’s technologies are integrated into Israel weapons systems including fighter jets, drones and warships… making it complicit in occupation and the killing of Palestinians.”

A third request focuses on the protection and support of palestinian students at the University of York:
“Palestinian students have reported incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, in addition to persecution and potential persecution,” the letter elaborated. “The University of York has a duty of care for its students during this incredibly sensitive time… We demand tangible action to students who have been impacted by the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” Specific examples of hostility listed include verbal assult and a muslim student being asked to remove her hijab.

The letter goes on to describe how important it is that students feel safe on campus, and highlights how necessary it is for freedom of expression to be supported: “We do not believe that the University of York is doing enough to uphold the ideal of freedom of speech and urge the University to take immediate action to provide space to express ourselves.”

Finally, the letter asks for the university to provide support for damaged Palestinian academic institutions throughout the conflict. “We ask you to take a firm stance against Israel’s crimes and to support the further education sector in Gaza and the West Bank.”

“As students, staff and alumni of the University of York, we call on our institution to condemn Israeli apartheid and not to empower or fund systems of oppression,” the letter finishes.

“We await an urgent response.”

YUSU President Pierrick Roger offered a comment in support of the letter:

“Yes, we support the publishing of this open letter as it lines up with our understanding of the situation and our previous calls for action. On the points about divestment, students may recall that the Union has been calling for this for the past 3 years. It seems basic that as a University for Public Good, as we are often referred to, we do not support or profiteer from socially harmful industries. It also seems basic to us that we should support and protect those who are impacted by our complicity and rectify as best we can wrong caused. We therefore fully endorse the message of the open letter and its demands.”

“The University should respond positively. This open letter represents students expressing extreme concern over the University’s behaviour in a constructive and thoughtful manner. I encourage the University to look at the support this has received and to question whether its politic of absolute neutrality on what organisations it works with and funds is still appropriate, adequate, or moral.”

The letter is avaliable to sign until Friday the 22nd at 3pm, after which it will be sent to the university leadership team.