London student societies accused of ‘supporting’ Hamas after its attack on Israel
Multiple societies made or shared controversial statements related to the group banned by the government
Several London student societies are criticised for allegedly “supporting” Hamas militants on social media after their “unprecedented cross-border attack” into Israel on 7th October.
The student groups came under fire for sharing or making controversial statements, including ones that called the attack “a heroic fight” and Hamas fighters “martyrs,” The Telegraph and The Times reported.
Most accusations are against student societies at University College London (UCL) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
It’s illegal to show support for Hamas, as the group is designated a “proscribed terrorist organisation” by the UK government. Many universities have stated they’ll investigate reported incidents and take disciplinary or criminal actions against students who have broken this law.
But it’s become unclear how institutions draw the line between an act being “pro-Hamas” or “pro-Palestinian,” as UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman recently told police leadership that even waving a Palestinian flag could be considered a criminal offence.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), representing over 70 Jewish societies across the country, has accused “fellow students” of “glorifying” the deaths of civilians and called for “harsh actions against this despicable celebration of violence.”
The UCL Justice for Palestine Society is criticised after posting a quote from a senior Hamas leader on Instagram, which appeared to describe Hamas’ attack into Israel as “Palestinian resistance” and “a heroic fight” against “thousands of fascist and criminal settlers.”
In response, a UCL spokesperson said: “Any form of discrimination, incitement, antisemitism, islamophobia, racism, abuse, bullying or harassment is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated at UCL. We are investigating this incident and will take appropriate action if necessary through our disciplinary processes. We are currently doing everything we can to provide support to those affected by the horrific events.
“We encourage all members of our community to report any such incidents, so we can investigate and take action as appropriate. This includes the Marxist Society being suspended by the Students’ Union at UCL, pending an investigation – a decision fully supported by UCL.”
Whilst at SOAS, the Palestine Society was called out in the media for the statement it posted whilst advertising several pro-Palestine rallies one day after Hamas’ attack. It said: “The Palestinian people have the right to resist occupation by any means necessary.
“After 75 years of violence, apartheid, settler colonialism, racism, occupation and many other unspeakable injustices, Palestinians are resisting. United we stand with the Palestinians all over Gaza, the West Bank and the diaspora, and we extend our support to all the victims.”
A SOAS spokesperson responded: “SOAS has a clear and zero-tolerance policy in relation to anti-semitism and all forms of racism. Views expressed by SOAS student societies do not represent a SOAS view or a SOAS endorsement of views expressed.”
In a recent letter to university bosses, UK Education Secretary and Higher Education Minster Gillian Keegan and Robert Halfon expressed concern about the welfare of Jewish students in light of “inflammatory messages that show support for Hamas” from “a number of student societies that support Palestinians.”
The letter reads: “Not only are such statements of questionable legality, but they are also deeply troubling and hurtful to Jewish people, given that so many have friends and family based in Israel.
“We ask that you act swiftly and decisively against any threats, be they implicit or explicit, to their safety and welfare.”
Hamas’ initial attack into Israel has claimed the lives of more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers, while Israeli retaliatory strikes into Gaza has killed at least 5,000 people and injured another 12,000 as of this article.
Tens of thousands of people have since taken to the streets across the UK since Israel invaded, calling for peace and freedom for Palestinians and more than 1,000 police officers were deployed to quell protests, with 15 people being arrested in London.
But the complexity of the current situation between Israel and Gaza call into question the extent to which Palestine supporters can exercise their freedom of speech in protests without being accused of supporting Hamas. Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote to the police that support of Hamas can include waving Palestinian flags and chanting a pro-Palestine slogan that could be considered an “expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world.”
Similar debates are taking place at London universities, where there are incidents of student societies being suspended over pro-Palestine imagery and texts on posters and accusations of students being barred from campus after participating in pro-Palestine protests.
SOAS has been approached for further comment.
If you are experiencing distress related to matters mentioned in the article, please speak to someone. Samaritans can be contacted by calling 116 123, Anxiety UK by 03444 775 774, and Mind by 0300 123 3393 at any time.