Thursday, 22 January 2009

Principal responds....and we reply

Dear ‘Campaigners’

I am responding to your demands over the College’s position over the situation in the Middle East.

Firstly, allow me say [sic] that I fully understand your concerns over the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in Gaza, and the escalation of violence that has led to many deaths. Furthermore, recent calls for an investigation into alleged war crimes are, as you remark, very alarming.

I will address the issues you raise individually:
1. The College has made no formal statement on the situation in Gaza and like most universities, does not see its role as to condemn any independent nation state. However, the College concurs with the recent statement by Universities UK, of which I am currently the President, which represents the sector:
Professor Rick Trainor, President, Universities UK, said: ‘Universities UK supports calls for an end to the conflict in and beyond Gaza. We are particularly aware that many of the civilian have occurred in educational establishments.
The UK’s universities are resolutely committed to the right to education, enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Higher education, in particular, is a global activity and we value our academic links with universities all over the world. The international nature of higher education means it is a force for understanding, tolerance and respect between peoples.’

2. As I have said in previous correspondence to some of you, the Council of King’s decided to confer an honorary doctorate of Laws on Shimon Peres, on the occasion of his visit in November 2008 to the UK, during which he was received by the Prime Minister and the Queen. This award was made before the recent tragic events which have unfolded in Gaza and cannot therefore be seen as any kind of endorsement of recent actions, and was in recognition of the past efforts of Mr Peres to find a peaceful solution to conflicts in the Middle East, which led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. I have made the Chairman of Council aware of your concerns. However, Council has no plans to consider the unprecedented step of revoking the award.

3. There already exist a number of funded scholarships for which Palestinians are eligible. Also, the College supports the efforts of Universities UK (following a visit to the Palestinian territories and to Israel in October 2007 which I led in my role as President of Universities UK) to increase contact, including scholarships for Palestinian students to come to Britain, between UK universities and their Palestinian counterparts.

4. I am happy to support the facilitation of any such student-led fundraising.

5. We have an ongoing programme of establishing links with other universities. I will discuss with colleagues whether such links as you suggest are appropriate and worthwhile to both parties.

6. The issue of ethical investment is a complex one and all investment issues are scrutinized by the Investment Sub Committee of the Council’s Finance Committee.

7. I am encouraging colleagues to look into this.

8. Insofar as those students involved act within the boundaries of the law and do not unduly hinder the teaching and research of the College, there will be no repercussions against the students involved.

As you know, the College has a long tradition of expertise in international relations, and expects to make a major contribution to the understanding of conflict in the Middle East, particularly at this crucial time. To this end it is imperative that senior members of all sides are engaged with King’s. Since the Peres award, for instance, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Professor Manuel Hassassian, has given a talk at the College. This followed on from the launch at King’s, earlier in 2008, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), an innovative initiative in which Arab and Israeli academic institutions are openly collaborating.
I am sure you will agree that collaboration and dialogue are the only way forward in finding a lasting solution to this crisis.
I hope this is helpful.
Professor Rick Trainor


Dear Principal

Thank you for your prompt response to our action and demands. As you have addressed our concerns individually, we shall respond likewise.

1) By asking for an official condemnation of the events in Gaza, we are not asking if you are aware of the situation; this is of course beyond doubt. Rather, we are asking for a public response from King's College. As an institution of higher education, King's College can have a major influence, and thus also has a responsibility in this regard.

We therefore continue to demand a condemnation of Israel's disproportionate actions, the harm inflicted upon the civilians of Gaza, and the attacks upon educational institutions. We are, of course, not asking for the condemnation of an independent state as such.

2) We are aware that the revocation of an award is unprecedented at this institution. However, that fact alone is not sufficient ground to refuse our request. Until Tuesday, it was unprecedented for an African American to be President of the United States. Things change, and so do precedents.

We could draw your attention to Shimon Peres' record:

* His involvement in the Qana massacre of 1996 in which 106 civilians were killed and around 116 injured.
* Arms dealing with South Africa whilst an international embargo was in place.
* His comments at a press conference last week suggesting that the deaths of Palestinian children in the current conflict were caused by Palestinians not looking after their children.
* Peres has repeatedly boasted of the 'privilege' of introducing weapons of mass destruction to the Middle East[1]. (This, alone, is the greatest threat to long term stability in the Middle East and makes it all the more unacceptable that he has been awarded an honorary doctorate for his efforts to find 'peace' in the area.)

It is this record that makes Shimon Peres an unworthy recipient of an award from King's College and a poor ambassador for our school. It is this record that concerns us and it is for this reason we demand the revocation of the award.

3) We appreciate that Palestinian students already have the opportunity to study at King's. This does not, however, address the specific, desperate situation of Palestinian students. We ask for Scholarships specifically funded by King's College for Palestinians. This would begin to redress the obstacles Palestinian students face and make concrete the support for Palestinians in the wider King's community.

4) We are glad your office is willing to facilitate cross-campus fundraising, and look forward to working out the specifics of its implementation with you.

5) We are glad you are discussing establishing links with educational institutions affected by the crisis in Gaza. We would like to be updated regarding the course of those discussions. We do not doubt that the establishment of such links would be worthwhile and wish these to be publicised in staff and student communications.

6) We are glad that all investment issues are scrutinised at King's, but there is a huge lack of transparency in this process. We demand that King's openly acknowledge any investment made in arms companies doing business with the state of Israel, and divest itself of such investments. As fee-paying students we have a right to know where our money is invested.

7) We are glad that you are encouraging colleagues to look into the donation of resources to universities and schools in the Gaza strip. We wish a more concrete commitment from you to ensure that such resources are donated, and would be willing to co-ordinate student participation in the implementation of this.

8) We are glad of your assurance that there will be no censure against law-abiding students involved. You should be aware that we are not barring lecturers from teaching or students from attending lectures in K2.31. We encourage students and staff to continue to use K2.31 for the normal work of the College. Our doors remain open.

We believe that the quality of a university is measured by its openness, the involvement of its student body, and its willingness to engage critically in debate. We are therefore very concerned at the presence of security guards directly outside our doors. This checkpoint has distressed many of our participants, and is felt by many to amount to harassment. It is a barrier to openness, involvement and free exchange of ideas. Further to this, we do not consider the barring of journalists legitimate. We have had enquiries from many local and national media outlets, including Channel 4, the BBC, the Guardian, and the Times. To bar these journalists from access to K2.31 amounts to barring the British public from this institution and from this story, which is clearly of interest to that public. We demand that journalists be allowed access to K2.31

The occupation of K2.31 is democratically and collectively conducted by all participants. We believe that a university should be a public space in which freedom of expression, assembly and engagement with the outside world are encouraged.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

[1] The Guardian,"This war has taught us that Israel must revive its military approach", Monday 4th September 2006

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