SOAS alumni speak out against the suppression of Palestine solidarity – Mondoweiss

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In October 2023, seven students and alumni of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Univerity in London were suspended for Palestine solidarity protests on campus. An upswell of student and faculty support from across departments and student societies has led to four students being unsuspended, with three alumni still banned from campus.

While the administration has claimed that the suspensions were for health and safety violations, information obtained by student organizers verifies that the real motivations were not health and safety related, but part of a larger plan to crackdown on student organizing to securitize the campus, a mandate that has accelerated since the beginning of Adam Habib’s hiring as director in 2021. No stranger to strong-arm tactics, Habib has tried to ruthlessly squash the faculty union (UCU), cleaner’s union (Unison) & other campus movements going back to his days in South Africa at the University of Witwatersrand.

As SOAS continues to be extractively hollowed out, with key departments like the Neurodiversity Team and Student Advice and Wellbeing Team barely surviving, we have seen an unprecedented and chilling commitment to hiring more external security staff, installing more CCTV cameras, as well as proposals to install permanent checkpoints at all buildings and even create ‘protest response teams’.

In the context of an ongoing genocide in Gaza, we have yet to see any formal attempt by the university to reach out to Palestinian students–much less the larger population of Muslim, Arab, Asian, and other British and International students from the global majority — and continued denials of the institutional abuse and discrimination that are being uncovered at every level of the university. The total lack of accountability from an institution that claims to be progressive and even ‘decolonial’ — touting its famous graduates like Paul Robeson — is nothing short of sickening, especially considering its ongoing financial investments in settler-colonialism, apartheid & genocide in Palestine.

We call on students and alumni around the world to reject the hollowing out of the university for neoliberal and genocidal agendas, and we call on all former SOAS alumni to stand up for their community by standing up to the bullies and abusers in the SOAS administration. For a new era of accountability and transformative justice at SOAS!

SOAS Alumni 4 Palestine1


We write as alumni and graduates of SOAS to express our deepest outrage at the university administration’s suspension of four students supporting the SOAS Palestine Society in the September 29 and October 9 protests, as well as several SOAS alumni who have been banned from campus.

By immediately suspending the students without due process, the SOAS administration is in violation of its own disciplinary procedures. Furthermore, suspending students merely for protesting and without the required processes effectively prohibits lawful political expression and protest on campus, which is what we have seen from October 13 onwards when the disciplinary letters were received. While the administration has repeatedly claimed that the suspensions were for “health and safety violations,” the suspended students have revealed that the investigation speaks of creating “protest response teams” and creating extensive watch lists of activist students. This is the same environment in which posters related to Palestine advocacy and against securitization have been torn down off professors’ doors, making it difficult to take the administration’s narrative seriously in this respect.

As the Israeli state enacts a ground invasion in Gaza — deliberately cutting off electricity, fuel, food, and water to a population of two million, nearly half of whom are children — we are witnessing an intentional and unprecedented suppression of freedom of expression at SOAS and at universities around the world in response to students’ political activity, primarily targeting Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and non/anti-Zionist Jewish students and their allies for their advocacy.

At the time of this writing, over 18,800 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed, with some putting the estimates as high as 20,000 given reporting delays. This includes 7,729+ children, and 51,000 wounded. The current massacres in Gaza have even been openly compared by Israeli politicians and the military to the mass genocidal ethnic cleansing event known as the ‘Nakba’ (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic), which took place in 1948, displacing over 725,000 Palestinians and turning hundreds of thousands more into refugees worldwide and surveilled minorities within the newly-declared Israeli state. Thus, the intent is clear, as senior Holocaust and genocide scholars have already affirmed: to ‘finish the job’ that was started over 75 years ago, whether or not a short-term cease-fire is declared.

We have watched from afar as the university we attended has slowly deteriorated under Dean Adam Habib’s leadership, with particularly noticeable censorship of political activity on campus reminiscent of his previous tenure at Witwatersrand University. This is particularly true for international students who are restricted from participation in political expression by the double bind of Visa restrictions and Prevent but who, particularly if they are Palestinian or Israeli students, are more likely to have personal motivations to partake in protests and other political actions. We remember in this sense Dr. Refaat Alareer, a former SOAS student killed by targeted Israeli airstrikes. Our hearts are with his family and all students, current and former, who are directly impacted by the ongoing genocide.

SOAS makes great fanfare about being “one of the few universities in the UK that has made a formal commitment to delivering a decolonising agenda,” even enshrining this intention in their own EDI strategy, and many of us came to SOAS because of this ‘progressive’ reputation. And yet students today are reporting that they feel like this very ‘decolonial school’ is putting them on ‘watch lists’, that they are being harassed by security teams, being censored in the classroom and on campus, and feeling like the “safe haven” they sought is actually a hostile environment. The audacity of SOAS–a university with its own Centre for Palestine Studies – to teach on Palestine but suppress Palestine advocacy is mind-boggling. In addition to SOAS’s relationship with  Haifa University in Israel and its financial investments in the Occupation of Palestine, we regret to say that SOAS is not only ‘falling short’ of its supposed ‘decolonial’ agenda, it is — in the name of “decoloniality”! — aiding and abetting colonialism. Paul Robeson, so proudly used by SOAS in its external PR and marketing, would be rolling in his grave.

Thankfully, it seems that students have reached their limits and are speaking out about the impact of SOAS’s Hostile Environment with the aim of dismantling it. We wholeheartedly support this kind of truth-telling and hope it can correct many of the historical wrongs that SOAS has committed against its students, staff, and faculty over the years. As more money has been invested in security than the Neurodiversity Team, and language programs (the most notable feature of the university) continue to be cut, we continue to hope and believe that we can still bring back something of the critical, vibrant, inclusive culture for which SOAS was, once upon a time, legitimately known.

In this sense, we are overjoyed that some of that critical culture has already started to return, as continuous student and staff pressure has led to the reinstatement of [four] suspended students. However, there [are still alumni who have] not been given a fair disciplinary procedure […] As such, there is still so much more that needs to be done.

Therefore, as alumni and graduates, we henceforth demand:

1) That the Executive Board and Board of Trustees immediately […] provide a full amnesty for the alumni banned from campus. All formerly suspended students must also be provided with substantial compensation and support for their lost schooling time and the negative effects on their mental health and wellbeing.

2) That the Executive Board and Board of Trustees issue an unequivocal statement acknowledging the hostile environment that has been created at SOAS which is restricting intellectual and political freedom at an alarming rate. It must also commit to immediate transformative structural change of the institution towards accountability and reconciliation for the harm it has caused, and cease obstructing student efforts to hold the institution accountable. Crucially, this statement must affirm all student and staffs’ right to freely express support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for human rights and liberation in the face of 75 years of dispossession.

In this sense, we demand that the Executive and Trustee Boards support the creation of a multi-disciplinary student/staff committee to begin identifying harmful policies and investigate the impact of the hostile environment at SOAS which is reflective of the UK overall on Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students, as well as non- and anti-Zionist Jewish students and faculty who have been made to fear for their education and careers. The latter students have been isolated both by the national conversation which accuses them of being self-hating and the local SOAS environment which dares to speak in the name of Jewish students but never once consults them on its actions (whether non-/anti-Zionist or Zionist). This committee must be independent and autonomous from SOAS senior management, who bear the responsibility for the harm caused to the SOAS community.

3) That the Board of Trustees and Executive Board move to end SOAS’s research, commercial, and institutional partnerships with the Israeli state (such as its partnership with Haifa University) in line with the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), following its own “ethical investment policy”.

4) That the Board of Trustees and Executive Board issue an unequivocal statement condemning the Israeli state’s genocide in Gaza, call for a permanent ceasefire and the establishment of unmolested humanitarian corridors for aid. The Executive and Trustee Boards must also issue a statement affirming the Palestinian people’s Right to Return and resistance as enshrined in international law, an end to the apartheid system and dismantling of the apartheid wall, and the restoration of autonomy and full equal rights for all Palestinians in historic Palestine and the Diaspora.

We urge the members of the Executive Board and Board of Trustees to do the right thing and yield to the demands of the staff, students, and alumni who believe in a SOAS without hypocrisy, harassment, or censorship. Honour your ‘decolonial’ commitments by bringing all the students and alumni back to the community immediately, ending the hostile environment at SOAS, advocating for an end to the current genocide in Gaza in your capacity as a public institution, and supporting divestment from Israeli apartheid and the Occupation.

In rage and solidarity

  1. Sahil K Warsi, Anthropology and Sociology, 2015
  2. Hibo Bile, Global Digital Cultures, 2019
  3. Iona Summerson, MSc International Politics, 2020
  4. Aditi Mohan, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2021
  5. Viktor da Silva, BA Social Anthropology & Music, 2023
  6. Ruby Hugh, Migration and Diaspora studies, 2023
  7. Yuying Zhu, MSc Political Economy of Development 2021
  8. Pedro Aranha Garcia, MA in Economic Policy, 2023
  9. Sebastian Reina, MA Gender and Sexuality, 2019
  10. Nadine Dahleh, Global Media and Postnational Communications, 2016
  11. Diego Merla López, MSc Political Economy of Development, 2022
  12. Sanna Shah, LLB Law, 2023
  13. Maureen Pritchard, Anthropology and Sociology, 2014
  14. Bochra Alazizi, MSc Economics, 2022
  15. Yu An, Gender Studies, 2022
  16. Nayantara Premakumar, Anthropology, 2013
  17. Märtha Munch, MA Human Rights Law, 2016
  18. Daniah Annab, MA Human Rights Law, 2016
  19. Sabrina Bessalem, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  20. Swati Jena, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  21. Mariam Sidat, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  22. Zoe Sin, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  23. Aika Udagawa, MA Religion in Global Politics, 2023
  24. Husain Mustafa, MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies, 2020
  25. Paul Chung, MSc Development Economics, 2022
  26. Marie Michalke, Comparative Literature 2019
  27. Krystal Rountree, Media and the Middle East, 2015
  28. Dhelia, BA South Asian Studies, 2016
  29. Azeem, BA History, 2019
  30. Keita Ichikawa, MA Religion in Global Politics, 2023
  31. Rukmini Banerjee, Postcolonial Studies, 2022
  32. Marium Binte Islam, MSc Development Economics, 2022
  33. Manaal Siddiqui, Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  34. Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2017
  35. Taufiq, Development Economics, 2020
  36. Arundhati Narayan, M. A. Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  37. Nour Louhichi, Law and International Relations, 2020
  38. Sarada Mahesh, LLM (Human Rights, Conflict and Justice), 2021
  39. Imogen Kropf, BA Anthropology 2021
  40. Maryam Chowdhury, BA History, 2022
  41. Hana Quresh, World Philosophies, 2020
  42. Habiba A, MA Human Rights Law, 2018
  43. R. Miah, BA History, 2008
  44. Nivi Manchanda, Politics and economics 2009
  45. Gabriel Rahman, BA Politics and Development Studies, 2023
  46. Koko Alhusainy, LLB Law, 2019
  47. Elliott Daly, BA World Philosophies 2020
  48. Jack Olive, Social Anthropology, 2021
  49. Mary Robertson, PhD in Economics, 2014
  50. David Wearing, PhD Development Studies, 2017
  51. Caroline Mulvaney, MA Religion in Global Politics, 2023
  52. Foreda Begum, Near Middle East 2012
  53. Nahid Ansari, MA Middle Eastern Studies 2023
  54. Daminee Budhi, Gender Studies and Law, 2019
  55. Joohi Kasliwal, Gender and Law, 2019
  56. Carina Low, Development Studies MSc, 2021
  57. Aleksandra Hall, BA Chinese, 2011
  58. Kendall Gardner, MSc Political Thought, 2022
  59. Hassaan Anwari, MSc Political Thought, 2021
  60. Alessia Arbustini, MA Gender Studies, 2019
  61. Amel Moyersoen, MA Migration amd Diaspora Studies, 2022
  62. Marquis Palmer, MSc Political Thought, 2022
  63. Matteo Libanora Vassalli, History, 2023 
  64. Apoorva Sriram, History, 2020
  65. Isabelle Prelipceanu, IR & Development, 2023
  66. Cameron Goodman, MSc Development Studies, 2023
  67. Mave Haimbodi, MA African Studies, 2022
  68. Edward Adonteng, MSc Political Thought, 2022
  69. Tania Ali, BA History and Politics, 2016
  70. Lucia Rodriguez, BA Politics, 2022
  71. Mekaela Gaurishanker Price, BA(Hons) Politics, 2017
  72. Kit Massmann, Social Anthropology, 2016
  73. Claire Blaser, MA religion in global politics, 2018
  74. Prachi Singhal, MSc Public Policy and Management, 2020
  75. Suhail Rashid Bhat, LLM, 2020
  76. Shahira Yatim, MA History of Art and Architecture of the Islamic Middle East, 2023
  77. Fredrik Molin, BA History 2017
  78. Alex Simpson, Environment, Politics and Development, 2023
  79. Anna Quintscher, MSc Development Studies, 2023
  80. Giulia Jacchia, BA Politics and International Relations, 2022
  81. Gabriel Dumfahrt, MSc Environment, Politics and Development Studies, 2023
  82. Alex Simpson, Environment, Politics and Development, 2023
  83. Anna Quintscher, MSc Development Studies, 2023
  84. Emily Holdcroft, Social Anthropology, 2023
  85. Maryam K, MA Gender Studies, 2022
  86. Nikhil Ravipati, Development Studies, 2023
  87. Hana Khan, MSc Migration, Mobility and Development, 2023
  88. Oscar Ward, BA World Philosophies, 2021
  89. Ala Isbeitan, MSc Development Studies, 2022
  90. Georg Lilie, MA Intensive South Asian Studies, 2020
  91. Millie Hanson, Development Studies, 2021
  92. Emma Lidén, LLM Human Rights, 2023
  93. Megan Burt, MSc Development Studies, 2021
  94. Julia Dagg, Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  95. Hamidah Siddiqua, MA History, 2023
  96. Fassya Tamara, MSc Humanitarianism, Aid & Conflict, 2023
  97. Aaron Downey, MSc Labour, Social Movements and Development, 2019
  98. Mia Sullivan, BA Social Anthropology, 2016
  99. Anlin Liang, MA Social Anthropology, 2021
  100. Ayesha Fuentes, PhD History of Art and Archaeology, 2021
  101. Gaia Estrano, Japanese Studies, 2017
  102. Tessa Qiu, BA Chinese and Music, 2017
  103. Or Pansky, Near and Middle Eastern Studies, 2021
  104. Robyn Lewes, MA Gender Studies, 2016
  105. Agnieszka Sentyrz, Islamic Studies, 2017
  106. Shiwani Agrawal, LLM Human Rights, Conflict and Justice , 2023
  107. Francesco L, Near and Middle Eastern Studies, 2012
  108. Advia Ahmed, Islamic Studies 2017
  109. Kathrine Cagat, Anthropology and Sociology, 2015
  110. Nonhlanhla Makuyana, International Relations, 2017
  111. Mohammed Rahman, BA Social Anthropology, 2018
  112. Marie Vandermeulen, BA International Relations and Law 2023
  113. Tabea Leiss, Development Studies & International Relations, 2023
  114. Seth Uzman, MSc Labour, Social Movements, and Development, 2020
  115. Drago Nuic, International Relations, 2023
  116. Giovani Vastida, MSc International Politics 2023
  117. Lucrezia Santa Maria, International Politics, 2023
  118. Anandi Pandey, International Politics, 2023 
  119. Mariam, Development and Politics, 2015
  120. Priya Budhi, Environment, Politics and Development, 2023
  121. Louisa Dassow, MA Environmental Law and Sustainable Development, 2023
  122. Fiona, Postcolonial studies, 2024
  123. Amy Sharrocks, Politics 
  124. Liam Barnard BA Music Studies 2006, MMus Ethnomusicology 2012
  125. Zackiel Lewis-Griffiths, BA Global Popular Music, 2021
  126. Iris, Postcolonial Studies, 2021
  127. Noé Bachellerie, BA Social Anthropology & Study of Religion, 2021
  128. Parvaz, MA Gender Studies 2020
  129. Victoria Major BA Global Popular Music 2021
  130. Ella Spencer, Co-President for Welfare and Campaigns 2022-23
  131. Gabriel Rahman, BA Politics and Development Studies, 2023
  132. Anonymous, BA History, 2018
  133. Anonymous, MA Religion in Global Politics, 2023
  134. Anonymous, Ma Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  135. Anonymous, BA African Studies and Linguistics, 2021
  136. Anonymous, MA Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  137. Anonymous, MA Gender Studies, 2023
  138. Anonymous, MA Anthropology of Food, 2022
  139. Anonymous, MA Gender Studies, 2019
  140. Anonymous, Postcolonial MA, [Year Withheld]
  141. Anonymous, Development Studies, 2019
  142. Anonymous, LLM in International Commercial & Economic Law, 2023
  143. Anonymous, LLM Human Rights Conflict and Justice, 2018
  144. Anonymous, History, 2009
  145. Anonymous, BA History and Politics, 2023
  146. Anonymous, BA Politics, 2017
  147. Anonymous, South Asian Studies, 2017
  148. Anonymous, History, 2022
  149. Anonymous, Law, 2018
  150. Anonymous, MA Linguistics, 2023
  151. Anonymous, MSc Development Studies, 2021
  152. Anonymous, MA Middle Eastern Studies, 2012
  153. Anonymous, BA History, 2017
  154. Anonymous (BA) History 2018
  155. Anonymous, Development Studies, 2023
  156. Anonymous, Postcolonial Studies, 2023
  157. Anonymous, MSc Development Studies, 2023
  158. Anonymous, MMus Ethnomusicology, 2017
  159. Anonymous, MSc Development Studies, 2023
  160. Anonymous, Development Studies, 2023
  161. Anonymous, LLB Law, 2016
  162. Anonymous, BA Linguistics, 2017
  163. Anonymous, Comparative Religions, 2003
  164. Anonymous, BA Social Anthropology 2019
  165. Anonymous, MA Gender Studies, 2023
  166. Anonymous, Department for Social Anthropology, 2017
  167. Anonymous, BA International Relations, 2023
  168. Anonymous, MSc International Politics, 2023
  169. Anonymous, MMus Ethnomusicology, 2017
  170. Anonymous, MA Global Media and Communications, 2023

Notes

1 This petition was sent to the Executive Board and Board of Trustees on 01/12/2024, with a deadline to respond by 17/01/24. A response denying the allegations was received on 01/15/24, and will be shared with the SOAS community when appropriate. On 01/22/24, the fourth remaining student was unsuspended, leaving only the alumni who have been blocked from visiting the campus. Given the inadequate response from the SOAS administration, SOAS Alumni 4 Palestine will continue to apply pressure to restore access to the campus for all suspended alumni & justice for the harm caused to all.

The petition language has been altered with brackets to accurately reflect the current situation at SOAS, but new demands have not been formally sent to the administration as of yet.



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