Student activism at the University of Cambridge surrounding the most recent events in Gaza has, of late, been severely problematic. Beginning with a rally on Kings Parade, which included calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and drew comparisons between Israeli soldiers and Nazis, the campaign has gradually deteriorated to include calls for a University boycott of companies doing business with Israel.
As no similar campaign has emerged to support the plight of any other oppressed minority in the region or globally, one would expect students to question what is it about the Palestinian cause that elicits such a comprehensive response from students who are ardent supporters of human rights. The noticeable lack of interest would appear to stem not from an active decision on the part of students to abstain from supporting other causes. Rather, this is the result of a successful cooption of the plight of the Palestinian people by self-declared do-gooders seeking to promote their own agenda at the expense of the Palestinian cause.
Calling on the university, “to honour its ethical responsibilities by immediately terminating its investments in Caterpillar Inc. and BAE Systems”, the campaign accuses these companies of being, “complicit in violations of international law, in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality”. No similar concern, however has been expressed for the violation of international law by Hamas, a recognized terror organization, and their systematic violation of their own citizens basic freedoms. Similarly, no concern was at all expressed for rocket attacks against Israeli civilians and the attempted perpetration of numerous large scale terror attacks against Israeli communities. Apparently, students’ concern for human rights begins and ends at the border of the Gaza Strip. The decrying of, “active links with corporate entities trading in mass murder and human misery”, are thus only relevant insofar as they conform with the left-wing narrative being promoted by concerned activists and intersect with issues these individuals deem to be of paramount importance.
The narrative which is prevalent on campus is one which only supports the perpetuation of such misinformation. Always excited to involve themselves in a “worthy” cause, students eagerly jump aboard the Israel-bashing bandwagon. This problem gains particular saliency when these “worthy” causes are supported by organizations purporting to represent student interests, such as the Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU), which threw its weight behind the aforementioned student rally for Gaza. When the atmosphere of misinformation is supported by official organs of the university, students are obviously more likely to support a cause which is dubious in nature. While one would expect students to perform their own due diligence and be exceptionally careful before dedicating their time and efforts to a cause, one would expect official organs of the university which purport to represent all students, to be even more careful.
This expectation extends to the 40 Cambridge University Student Groups and 80 academics and staff of the university who chose to sign their names on the petition calling for the boycott of and divestment from companies conducting business with the Israeli defence establishment.
One would think that as a university which prides itself on inclusivity, more thought would be given to the types of causes supported. One might expect the academics and staff at one of the world’s leading institutions of higher education to use the academic tools which they implore their students to make use of, such as thorough research and questioning, before putting their name to support a cause which they perhaps do not fully understand. It is the use of slogans such as human rights and freedom as well as the constructed intersectionality between causes, some of which are indeed worthy, that makes this possible. While every individual is free to support the causes that they deem most worthy, the time has come for University organs and staff to consider the ramifications on the wider university community of taking sides in supporting causes that are not as straightforward as they are made out to be. Similarly, those choosing to support such causes, should consider the cost of doing so, often at the expense of a commitment to the truth and civilised debate. When one needs to call for the destruction of a UN member state in order to support human rights in Palestine, then it is high time for a thorough reflection on what has happened to our university community and the once existing commitment to peaceful dialogue and discussion.