More than 200 academics at the University of Manchester have penned a letter to the university calling on it to cut ties with Tel Aviv University in the wake of Israel’s recent bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.
The open letter, addressed to the university’s vice-chancellor Dame Nancy Rothwell, said the Israeli university was “deeply implicated” in the May bombardment.
The University of Manchester and Tel Aviv University established a joint fund at the beginning of the year “to support and foster international collaborative partnerships between the universities.”
But the letter’s signatories, numbering 232 at the time of publication, argue the partnership “contravenes the University’s ethical commitment to oppose racist violence and oppression,” which was issued in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year.
“Across a range of disciplines from mechanical engineering to philosophy, Tel Aviv University is heavily and openly involved in research and development in weapons and surveillance technologies, and in military strategy and operational theory,” the signatories claim.
Tensions came to a head in early May when Israeli soldiers occupied the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The 11-day bombing offensive on the Gaza Strip saw 248 Palestinians killed, including 66 children. Middle East Eye reports around 1,900 Palestinians were wounded during the offensive and almost 60,000 displaced.
At least 12 people, including three foreign workers and two children, were killed in Israel by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza during the same period.
“This is a military doctrine of disproportionate force, adopted by the Israeli army,” the signatories say, “which privileges civilian over and above military targets and advocates, as one of its designers at TAU [Tel Aviv University] put it, ‘the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people.’
“This implicates Tel Aviv University in the deliberate and premeditated bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” they argue. That is why they request the university uphold its “own anti-racist ethical principles by ending the strategic partnership with Tel Aviv University.”
A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We would like to reassure our staff and students that the partnership has nothing whatsoever to do with military matters or any political endorsement.”
The fund has so far given money to five projects affiliated with three of the university’s schools; one at the School of Medical Sciences, two at the School of Natural Sciences, and another two at the School of Environment, Education and Development.
The university spokesperson added: “We value our connections with universities in Israel as an important part of our international strategy for engagement with higher education institutes. All such interactions are based on UK government guidance and regulation.
“The university carries out due diligence on all research collaborations informed by the latest information and guidance. We have extensive research partnerships across many different nations around the world. As ever all such collaborations are reviewed periodically,” the spokesperson told The Meteor.
The Meteor put these comments to academics who signed the letter, who replied: “The issue is not whether the partnership is based on government guidance, but whether it adheres to the university’s own publicly espoused values of anti-racism, and 231 of the university’s staff and researchers have declared that it doesn’t.
“Our open letter explains the centrality of military research and development to academic activity at TAU, across a range of disciplines from mechanical engineering to philosophy. Since TAU publicly asserts this centrality, Manchester university’s partnership with TAU cannot but be seen as an endorsement of TAU’s military involvement, whatever the particular content of the projects the partnership supports.
“We are concerned about the university’s due diligence that allowed this research partnership to proceed, since information about TAU’s military role is widely and publicly available – including information about its development of the Dahiya doctrine of the deliberate bombing of civilians and civilian infrastructure, a military objective that comes under the definition of war crime.”
The letter comes after students staged ‘Free Palestine’ protests at the University of Manchester in response to the aerial offences.
A spokesperson from the University of Manchester Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign stated: “Students, staff and the community in Manchester have been campaigning for an end to all university complicity in Israeli apartheid for five years now.
“Last year, after a long campaign, we succeeded in getting UoM to divest over £10 million worth of shares in various companies which play a role in Israeli human rights abuses, including Caterpillar Inc. which builds the armoured bulldozers the Israeli Occupation Forces use to demolish Palestinian homes.
“After another 260 Palestinians have been killed in the recent attacks by the Israeli state, it is time for University management to see sense and put an end to all its links with Zionist colonialism — from the research partnership with Tel Aviv University, to the student exchange programme with Hebrew University of Jerusalem, to the commercial partnerships between graphene research and the global arms trade.”
Norma Turner, chair of Manchester Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), said:
“Manchester PSC stands in solidarity with the 230 University of Manchester academics calling on the university to end its research partnership with Tel Aviv University.
“Over the years we have worked closely with both academics and students who have challenged the apartheid state of Israel and built solidarity campaigns in support of the Palestinian people.
“In recent years we have supported the university students in organising BDS campaigns to break the links between the University of Manchester and Israel.”
Featured image: Sophie Siriwardena.
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