UGM - 17 June 2021
Should the LSE be apartheid-free?
Proposer: Hannah Szeto
Seconder: Taibah Al-Fagih
What is the issue?
- Israel is an apartheid state. Palestinians have described their oppressive reality under Israeli occupation as apartheid for decades; and recently, multiple human rights organisations have joined in that condemnation. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has been defined as apartheid by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Israeli human rights organisations Yesh Din and B’Tselem, and the South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). The characterisation of Israel as an apartheid state is a result of over 50 years of illegal settlement, violent dispossession, and indiscriminate bombing campaigns that target native Palestinians and disregard civilian casualties as “collateral damage”. We commend the LSESU Sabbatical Officers for condemning the institutionalised oppression of the Palestinian people and accurately calling out Israel for what it is – an apartheid state.
- The current Socially Responsible Investment Policy (SRI) that guides LSE’s investments is wholly inadequate; in particular, it does not commit to being an apartheid-free campus. The SRI names companies “engaged in tobacco manufacture, indiscriminate arms manufacture or companies which are significantly engaged in the extraction of thermal coal and tar sands, the most polluting of fossil fuels.” While this is a welcome clause, it falls short of the LSE’s commitment to anti-racism and decolonisation – the SRI’s omission of companies that are complicit in apartheid regimes undercuts these commitments.
- That LSE is not yet committed to being apartheid-free, in the form of its investment policy, hurts its Palestinian students. For example, Expedia is an American online travel shopping company which operates in illegal Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land, and thus is actively complicit in Israeli violations of international law. However, LSE’s current SRI would not prevent investment in Expedia as it is not a company engaged in tobacco or weapons manufacture, or the extraction of thermal coal and tar sands. This means that LSE’s investments would go partly toward supporting Expedia, a company that explicitly profits from the dispossession of LSE’s Palestinian students.
- The IHRA definition, adopted by the LSE, has been criticised for its ambiguity, which opens up the possibility of stifling academic freedom and free speech by conflating political criticism (protected under freedom of expression) with antisemitism. Under this definition, a Palestinian student could be labelled as antisemitic for simply describing their experiences of Israeli apartheid and expressing their outrage at their oppression; indeed, the IHRA definition has already been used to silence pro-Palestine voices through event cancellations. LSE has adopted a nuanced approach to the IHRA definition, recognising that not all of the IHRA definition’s examples are antisemitic – in particular, that criticism of the government of Israel is not inherently antisemitic without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent. The LSE’s recognition of this nuance, and the fact that 7 of the 11 IHRA definition examples focus on Israel, only go to show that the IHRA definition is indeed problematic. Furthermore, government threats to pull funding from universities who disagree with the IHRA make it more difficult to view this framework as one that seeks to protect welfare, and instead one that is meant to pervert discourse. If LSE were committed to being antiracist and apartheid-free, they would choose a definition that protects the welfare of Jewish students without silencing Palestinian students and those who stand in solidarity with them.
What is the solution?
LSESU to lobby LSE to:
- Divest from companies complicit in Israeli apartheid. Even with the current SRI Policy, the university continues to indirectly invest in companies that profit from the oppression of the Palestinian people and theft of their land. Adding negative filters and clauses that definitively remove investments for all companies profiting from apartheid and human rights violations, as well as all arms-producing companies, would make their investments more ethical.
- Sign the apartheid-free pledge and commit to ensuring that the university is free from discrimination and plays an active role in dismantling systems of oppression at home and abroad. Establish an apartheid-free zone that does not normalise relations with any regime of racism, oppression, and discrimination.
- Actively support and work with Palestine solidarity organisations such as “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” (JfJfP), BRICUP, Zochrot, ICAHD and PSC to support Palestinian and pro-Palestine students by protecting their right to narrate their experiences, and resisting government pressures to curtail free speech on campus.
- Rescind the IHRA definition, which the UCL-commissioned report concluded does not add any precision beyond that already provided by the Equality Act, and the IHRA examples have been used to silence Palestinian activism. If a specific definition of antisemitism is to be adopted, it should protect Jewish students’ welfare without silencing those who have experienced oppression at the hands of the Israeli state as well as activism on campus in their support.