Saint Martins College Students Take Control of the School’s Reception Area in Pro-Palestine Protest

Students at the University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins, a top art school in the U.K., took over the school’s reception area earlier this week in protest of the institution’s failure to take a stance on Israel’s war in Gaza.

The students said they were protesting against the school’s “financial complicity in genocide” and “affiliations with Zionist institutions” and claimed that “there is no action left other than to occupy a space,” after months of protest.

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Palestinian health authorities have reported that war in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 people, mostly civilians, and has forced a majority of the area’s populations, around 2.3 million people, to flee their homes. The campaign against Hamas came after the organization’s October 7 attack on Israeli communities near the border with Gaza in which 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were murdered and over 200 taken as hostages.

According to The Art Newspapera meeting earlier this week between the university’s vice-chancellor James Purnell and members of the protest organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) spurred the occupation of the reception area. Louisa Benotmane, an SJP member at University of the Arts London said during the meeting that “it was very clear that we were not going to receive a positive response to our demands from the university.”

The students have myriad demands including a statement from the university calling for a ceasefire, the withdrawal from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism—which critics say conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism—guaranteed protection of free speech rights and the right to organize for Palestine. The SJP is also calling on the university to  disclose and dissolve all affiliations with “Zionist institutions,” declare and divest from any “financial complicity in genocide,” establish scholarships for Palestinian students, partnerships with Palestinian universities,  and the establishment of a center for Palestine studies.

The students are also calling for Purnell’s resignation. Purnell, who served in the UK parliament’s Labour party from 2001 to 2010 and as the chair of Labour Friends of Israel from 2002 to 2004, is seen by many students as a major obstacle in the path to achieving their goals. 

“All of us have such a good relationship with our educators, with our teachers, and it is very clear that there is a difference between speaking with an educator and speaking to someone like James Purnell, who is a politician,” Benotmane said.

Rahul Patel, the joint branch secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) and a staff member at UAL told The Art Newspaper that the protests stem from the university’s lack of messaging on the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

“The university has not made any statements on Gaza. They say they are staying neutral. We have said there is no neutral position on genocide,” Patel said, adding that UAL wasted no time in condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine, “and is now showing bias by not making any statements on Gaza.”

Students protests at universities and art schools and high profile events calling for divestment from Israel and a ceasefire in Gaza have spread across the US since Israel invaded Gaza. According to the New York Times more than 2,900 students have been arrested or detained during such protests.


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