Students took to Forum Hill to protest against the cancellation of a Guild-approved ‘Mock Israeli Checkpoint’ event by the University.
The event, marketed on Facebook as ‘Defend Activism’, was organised in order to “demonstrate for freedom of protest and the right to support the Palestinian people”.
The protest began outside of the Forum, with several speeches addressing the assembled students. One member of the Friends of Palestine commented that “student activism has been the source of valuable influential political movements all over the world over the last decades, and it needs to be protected in the pursuit of a better society.”
The students then proceeded towards Northcote House. There, three students delivered a letter to the University registrar, Mike Shore-Nye, outlining several of their demands.
Outside of Northcote House, students continued to protest, with one decrying the decision to cancel the event as “anti-Palestinian action” and accusing the University of being a “fascist institution”. Other speakers also called the move “draconian”.
The protest comes off the back of the cancellation of a ‘Mock Israeli Checkpoint’ event, scheduled to take place during ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’. On Thursday 23 February, the University informed Friends of Palestine that their event, scheduled for Monday 27 February, could not take place due to “safety and security issues”. The society’s appeal against the decision was denied by Janice Kay, the University’s Provost.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the University said:
The University of Exeter is committed to free speech within the law, and to allowing legitimate protest to take place on campus. We have an unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusivity. These qualities are at the very heart of who we are and what we both expect and demand of everyone associated with the University. In keeping with guidance from Universities UK, the representative organisation of UK universities, we believe that if protests take place on campus, consideration must be given to the location and prominence of planned events and their impact on the staff and student body, as well as the need to ensure that they do not restrict the ability of the campus community to move freely. The proposed Mock Israeli Checkpoint street theatre event was planned for a very busy part of campus where students and staff not only congregate but use as a thoroughfare to lectures. There are other events being hosted by the Friends of Palestine next week where there will be an opportunity for views to be expressed and debated in a safe and inclusive environment.
Representatives of the Friends of Palestine Society expect to meet with University officials within the next week to discuss the reasons that the event was cancelled and to air their concerns.