UCL Marxist Society suspended over refusal to remove Palestine imagery ‘inciting violence’

UCL SU also took down the advertisement for a Student Socialist Alternative Society event over similar concerns

UCL Marxist Society has been suspended by the UCL Students’ Union for its remarks on the situation in Israel and Palestine, pending a full investigation.

The suspension comes following the society’s refusal to take down posters which the SU deemed to be “inciting violence.” The posters advertise a meeting in support of Palestine, with the headline: “Intifada until Victory! The fight for a free Palestine.” 

UCL Marxist Society criticised the move as “outrageous, and an attack on a fundamental democratic right: freedom of speech.” 

Posters distributed by UCL Marxist Society on campus and online advertise a meeting in support of a “Free Palestine”

In emails seen by The London Tab, SU representatives asked the Marxist society to remove the posters from around campus and also take down similar material online.

An SU official wrote: “Please could you ensure that the posters are taken down and that the images on social media are changed as soon as possible. They could be construed as inciting violence and are not acceptable.” 

Emails also outlined the SU’s concerns over legal risks to the Marxist Society for implied support for Hamas.

The SU said: “(Our) primary concern is to protect your society members. The political arm of Hamas is a proscribed terrorist group by the UK Government … Supporting Hamas action in Gaza and Israel poses a real and serious risk to society members and society leaders in committing a criminal offence under UK Law.” 

These warnings come at a time of high tensions between supporters of Palestine and UK institutions such as the police and government. Following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman told police leadership that even waving a Palestinian flag could be considered a criminal offence.

The Marxist Society was given the deadline to remove posters and online material “by 12 midday at the latest” on the 11th October but refused to do so. At 1:10pm the SU emailed the Marxist Society informing it of the suspension.

The SU wrote: “The decision has been taken to suspend the Marxist Society with immediate effect. The suspension will remain in place whilst the Students’ Union investigation is being carried out.”  

It also outlined the consequences of suspension, including the cancellation of all society events, the removal of the society’s page from the SU and revocation of access to its mailbox.

In a statement on Instagram, UCL Marxist Society condemned its suspension as an infringement on freedom of speech.

The post read: “The imagery on the poster is an accurate depiction of the last several decades of relations between the Israeli state and the Palestinian people.

“We condemn this outrageous attack on a fundamental democratic right: Freedom of speech. We condemn this attempt to shut down solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

In another email seen by The London Tab, the SU also contacted UCL’s Student Socialist Alternative Society, requesting them to change phrasing advertising an event. The society’s advert for the event titled “Palestine-Israel: Stop the War, Siege and Occupation – how can Liberation and Peace be won?” was taken down from the SU website.

The society said: “UCL SU sent warning emails to us saying that the statement / advertisement for our event that we posted on the website could be construed as incitement to violence.”

In response to the allegations, the SU said: “We asked the society to make some minor alterations to the event description on the Students’ Union website without changing the overall message.”

The intervention was reportedly due to concerns that a statement by the society incited violence. The flagged post read: “(Palestinian people have) the right to defend themselves, including by arms.”

The SU also reportedly expressed concerns about misinformation, as the Student Socialist Alternative Society did not publish updated figures on civilian deaths.

The same statement by UCL Student Socialist Alternative continued: “We also stand in solidarity with ordinary Israeli citizens attacked by indiscriminate rocket firing and other attacks. So far it is estimated that over 350 Israeli citizens have been killed, including from among poor Arab-Palestinian communities and Jewish working class families.”

UK media reported the numbers of Israeli dead as surpassing 700 on the same day that the post was made. The Socialist Alternative Society’s post also reported Gazan fatalities as “at least 313” while national media estimated them to be over 400.

In a separate statement, the society denounced the UCL Students’ Union’s actions as censorship. It read: “Our statement explicitly opposed indiscriminate attacks against ordinary Israelis and Arab Palestinians.

“The road to Palestinian liberation is through mass strikes and struggle, not Hamas’ counterproductive action. Would the UCL Students’ Union also censor statements saying Ukrainians have the right to defend against Russian invasion with arms?”

Naseerah Patel, a history student at UCL, expressed her opposition to the SU’s actions.

She said: “The Students’ Union is displaying their support for colonisation and genocide. They pride themselves on inclusivity, but why does this end when students show support for Palestine? Was it ignorance or their political leanings that made them forget that International law enables the right to armed resistance by a colonised people? It is clear that they only support decolonisation as an intellectual exercise and not in practice. Why is it that there is tolerance for colonisers, but not the colonised?”

Harry Saul Markham, the former President of the UCL Friends of Israel Society, expressed support for the suspension of the Marxist Society.

He commented: “Glorifying the intifada, a terrorist uprising against Israelis, is nothing to celebrate. It is criminal, it incites violence, and lends credence to acts of barbarity against innocent citizens, and Jews around the world.

“It is a tragedy that the left, once a natural home for Jews, has become poisoned with vile, poisonous Jew-hate.”

Intifada is an Arabic term for rebellion, uprising or resistance movement and often refers to two uprisings, in 1987 and 2000, by Palestinians seeking to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Marxist Society responded: “Intifada, meaning shaking off in Palestinian, is an uprising started by the oppressed Palestinian people themselves, and the word has a long history associated with the struggle of the oppressed, especially in Palestine.

“It embodies the idea of a movement of a whole people, and is the very opposite of individual acts of armed violence. Nothing about an intifada is inherently violent. In fact, its mass character in the past – see the first Intifada of 1987 – has meant general strikes and civil disobedience.”

A  Students’ Union UCL spokesperson said: “We feel that it is important for students and student groups to be aware of the law in relation to proscribed organisations. It is a criminal offence to express explicit or implicit support for a proscribed group. A criminal offence is also committed even if the person sharing information did not intend to express support.

“In the case of the image Marxist Society used to promote their event last Wednesday, we felt the image risked being considered implicit support for the motivations of a proscribed organisation.

“We advised Marxist Society to change the artwork, then when they didn’t, we requested they changed the artwork, then when they refused, we were left with no choice but to suspend the society. This choice was made when considering our responsibility as a charity to act within the public benefit.

“We’ll now investigate the actions of the society in line with our procedures. Our priority is always to protect our students and student groups, this extends to advising groups on how to act within the law.”

A UCL spokesperson said: “These posters have no place on UCL’s campus and we support the decision taken by Students’ Union UCL to suspend the group pending an investigation.

“Any form of discrimination, incitement, antisemitism, islamophobia, racism, abuse, bullying or harassment, is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated at UCL.”

UCL students affected by the ongoing conflict can access support materials here. 

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Featured image via Instagram @uclmarxistsoc