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KCL Academics Sign Open Letter Calling For Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza

Student March for Palestine. Image by Photography Lead Emma Carmichael

On Monday, 22 January, an open letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was sent to Vice-Chancellor and President of King’s College London (KCL), Shitij Kapur.

Over 172 academics at King’s College London have signed the open letter to Professor Kapur, which urges the University to call for a ceasefire and cut its ties with Israeli institutions. As of today, 24 January, there has been no response.

The letter draws attention to KCL’s failure to explicitly name and oppose Israel’s “colonial aggression”. Ignoring context and history of the colonialism taking place in Gaza, it argues, is to be complicit. This is the latest in a series of critiques of the university’s official statements, which many have felt to be inadequate.

“There is growing pain, grief, confusion and fear flowing through the College. So many times over the past months, we have been privy to our students’ and colleagues’ tears. We also weep,” the letter reads.

One of the signatories, Professor Yasmin Gunaratnam (School of Education, Communication, and Society), pointed to the official statement about King’s alumnus Dr Maisara Alrayyes’ death in November as being an example of “progressive colonialism”, where speech and policies can end up embedding and normalising racism.

“International colleagues and students worry about their visas if they are visible in actions calling for peace. We have heard first year students say they wish they had never come to King’s. They feel let down by the University’s lack of response to Gaza. All of this is unprecedented.”

Extract from the open letter calling for ceasefire sent to Professor Shitij Kapur

Staff members who have signed the letter include professors, researchers, and graduate teaching fellows. They span a range of social sciences and humanities disciplines at King’s, including Politics, Languages, Geography and International Development, among others.

Professor Gunaratnam told Roar: “The letter got bigger support than I had ever imagined when I began drafting in it December and a couple of colleagues then helped with revising the draft and of course made it much better. And then people started sharing it, so the signatures grew and grew.”

Support for Palestine among the student and staff community is also highlighted in the letter. Led by the student group KCL Students for Justice for Palestine (KCL SJP), walkouts were staged last year to call for King’s to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The letter highlights a lack of significant action by the University, and how it could be using its “various and considerable resources to stand against injustice”.

Within the context of the present institutional response to Gaza, our students have been telling us how the pro-Palestinian demonstrations, rather than the university, have become a sustaining space of learning and dialogue, of feeling less alone. This is both wonderful and a sad indictment of the expulsion of critical thinking and dialogue from the university.

Alongside an immediate ceasefire, KCL’s academics want the university to amplify advocate voices for peace, justice, and equality, as well as provide explicit assurance that they can discuss the conflict without fear of disciplinary repercussions.

They also implore Kapur to suspend College Chair Lord Christopher Geidt, who was previously an advisor to BAE systems, which the letter alleges has been “implicated in the war crimes committed in Gaza”. In 2021, Geidt faced backlash from the academic community for not disclosing his affiliations to Britain’s largest weapons manufacturer.

Students protest for palestine.
King’s students join their peers from other University of London schools at a march to support a ceasefire in Palestine. Photo: Emma Carmichael.

These demands follow similar campaigns by social science scholars across the country to urge their institutions to stand against Israel. Earlier, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, released a statement calling for “an immediate end to attacks on university students, staff and buildings” in accordance with Palestinians’ right to education. The University of Manchester’s Department of Sociology has also initiated a petition to ask the university to stop its partnerships with Israeli companies and universities.

The letter to President Kapur concludes with a drawing of a white kite and a poem by Palestinian poet and scholar Refaat Alareer, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza last year. “I chose to write the letter is [sic] a more poetic voice because I feel that our university leaders already know the ‘facts’. I wanted to muster/demand courage for us to step into the other road, to write a different story,” said Professor Gunaratnam.

“Like so many colleagues at King’s, we have made and are making many contributions to embedding anti-racism and anti-colonialism in our work in meaningful ways,” she added.

“But our efforts are undermined if we are seen as part of an institution that fails to recognise and stand against anti-Palestinian racism and the atrocities being perpetrated against a structurally vulnerable and historically oppressed population.”

Roar have contacted King’s College London for comment.

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