Following the tensions of Israeli Anti-Apartheid Week (IAW) in the first week of March. Two students have been notified by University authorities that they will be facing disciplinary action for hanging a ‘Stop Arming Israel’ banner from the roof of the Samuel Alexander building.
The two second year students were seen hanging the banner on a Thursday afternoon during IAW, as others stopped to watch or take pictures. The banner was “an attempt to draw attention to the University of Manchester’s violation of its own ethical investment policy … by holding investments in companies such as Caterpillar, who supply the armoured bulldozers for the Israeli Defence Forces” according to a BDS spokesperson.
The banner was only hung for a few minutes until building security were seen on the roof, taking it down and noting down the details of both students involved.
After it was revealed that the students involved are now facing disciplinary action, a protest was organised by activist groups ‘Recognise Refugee Rights’ and the BDS Campaign. The protest is set to happen on Wednesday the 29th of March outside the very same building the banner was hung from.
Almost a hundred students have confirmed attendance to the Facebook event, the description of which states that “this is a discriminatory attack on students that seek to raise awareness of the violation of Palestinian human rights, and therefore an attack on political expression.”
The event claims that this is not an isolated event, “as students at UoM that seek to raise awareness regarding the continual violation of Palestinian human rights regularly face discriminatory opposition on matters as simple as booking a room. An attack on students for political expression is unacceptable and unprecedented.”
The description continues to note that: “We are appealing to the University to comply with the following demands: withdraw completely the threat to discipline these students [and] apologise for attempting to restrict student action.”
The protest has received support from the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union’s current BME officer, who stated that “this is an escalation in the University’s policing of students and must be challenged.” It has also garnered attention and support from other groups, such as the ‘Sussex Friends of Palestine’ group.
The two students who chose to remain anonymous came together to provide The Mancunion with a statement on the events, in which they question the reasoning for their disciplining being that they were trespassing on a roof. They claim security argued them being on the roof “was a concern for our own safety”.
However they then recount that “they proceeded to put our safety at risk by ordering us to go back onto the roof and dismantle the banner. We were both surprised by this seemingly impromptu and rash decision as it followed self-righteous claims that we had endangered ourselves and breached the university’s health and safety regulations.
Therefore they claim that the reasons of health and safety cannot “be claimed to be legitimate grounds for disciplinary action. In the absence of such reasoning, as well as inconsistency with other banner drop cases, we can only assume that we are to be disciplined for the political context in which we were acting. It is hypocritical that two students be disciplined for bringing the university’s violation of its own ethical investment policy to light.
They continued: “It seems suspicious that the political context in which we are accused of trespassing has been brought to the forefront in the disciplinary letter we received, which stated ‘you were trespassing on the roof of the Samuel Alexander building during Israel Apartheid week’.
“This reveals an underlying discrimination against the political purpose of our action, which according to justice should be irrelevant. We hope the university reconsiders their decision to reprimand us in this particular case, in addition to the unethical investments they hold in contravention of their own investment standards.”
A spokesperson from The University of Manchester, when asked for a statement on these events said that “We cannot comment on student disciplinary cases.”