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Students protest against attacks on Gaza
Kings College London
A group of roughly 40 Kings College London (KCL) students occupied a lecture hall early in January, in protest against the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Shimon Peres, Israeli President.
Kings College London Socialist Students
Over the course of the occupation our events attracted hundreds of students. After two weeks we were given an ultimatum by the university to leave on the following terms or remain and be subject to university disciplinary regulations:
"The college has agreed to a series of measures to directly address the current crisis in Gaza, including the provision of scholarships for those directly affected by the crisis, and the donation of educational resources to institutions in Palestine.
"In addition, the college has acknowledged the scale of discontent that the award to Peres has generated among the student population, particularly considering the award in the context of what has happened recently in Gaza."
We decided to leave with a view to launching a further campaign on campus around the issue of Gaza, using the doctorate as a focal point.
But there are important lessons to be learnt from the occupation. Notably that the attitude of a section of the occupation group tended to alienate the student population.
Towards the beginning of the second week of occupation a group of Jewish and other students protested outside the campus by holding a sign explaining how anti-Semitic attacks had increased on campus since the occupation had started and that the occupation group had refused to condemn such attacks.
A number of students told us that they had experienced attacks and were afraid to wear religious symbols around the campus.
A section of the occupation - including myself - reacted by reiterating our invitations to pro-Israeli speakers and gave assurances that the occupation was not anti-Semitic.
We discussed issuing a statement but others argued that it would give a platform to 'Zionists'. So the protests grew.
Ordinary students were asking: why won't you condemn anti-Semitic attacks if you are not anti-Semitic?
A broad statement should have been issued, explaining how we are against all forms of religious or ethnic attacks (anti-Palestinian posters had been put up displaying an IDF soldier protecting a child and a Hamas soldier using a child as a shield) and that these tactics are not useful for our protest.
The occupation ended before the issue could come to a head, although those who aimed to use the label of anti-Semitism to attack the protest had done so through our inability to respond correctly.
This was not a random mistake. It is an expression of the position the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has taken on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which they encouraged throughout the group with a mix of opportunism and resistance to open political debate.
The conflict was never openly discussed and calls for such a discussion were resisted by their student members (SWSS) as well as others. This fear of debate stemmed from a lack of confidence in their own positions on the conflict.
A refusal to condemn the attacks on Israeli and Jewish students alienates many people and strengthens the propaganda of the Israeli ruling class.
Although the positive aspects of the occupation were a huge step forward, for KCL especially, the SWP are presenting the tactic of occupation as the future for the student movement.
There is a danger that this will be used to supplant the mass struggle with potentially isolated occupations.
Such occupations will be vulnerable to alienation from the rest of the student body and attacks from the university authorities. In this way the occupations may just become a flare-up of the most active individuals, but play little significant role in developing the mass student movement.
In The Socialist 18 February 2009:
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis