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BMSC statement on Palestine and freedom of speech

15 October 2023

The Black Members' Standing Committee of UCU (BMSC) abhors the violence that
has claimed innocent Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli lives in recent days. We
extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones
and who continue to do so at this very moment. We were glad to read the communique
sent out by UCU on 13 October 2023 which reaffirms that "achieving a lasting peace
in the region must start with an end to the occupation and a recognition of the rights
of all people". We agree with the UCU assessment that 'the events of recent days are
part of a continuing cycle of violence that has been the result of decades of brutal
occupation.' As the Standing Committee of a member-led union - that exists in the
service of Black staff and by extension Black students to whom we have a duty of care
- we are very concerned for our constituents in FE, HE and in the post-16 education
sector (including Adult and Prison Education), as well as for Black colleagues outside
it. For this reason, we make two points.

Firstly, global political conflicts do not only happen innocuously far away but because
of the continuation of colonial structures. They are tied to political-economic systems
including British colonialism and the British military industrial complex. In other words:
for many of us here the developments there are not abstract. We therefore call on the
UK government to urge Israel to halt its siege in Gaza. Palestinians have lived in a
perpetual state of fear and suffering for the past 75 years, facing both slow and sudden
forms of death. The BMSC is alarmed about the consequences for racialised minorities
and has observed a worrying development in over the past days. It is our duty to
express solidarity and raise concerns when our rights and safeties are at risk. We note
in particular the calls for censure of academics in British universities that is targeting
mostly educators of colour. We have taken note of a shockingly shift against those
who express concern for Palestinian rights or who detail Israel's violation of human
rights are facing direct threats. We are heartened by the UCU's statement which
reminds that Staff must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as
citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of
opinion on matters of public interest. We recognise that this may touch upon sensitive
or controversial issues. We share the concerns laid out in the statement of the British
Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) of 14 October 2023, and we encourage
all members to access the tool kit on academic freedom shared by Warwick UCU.
Please contact us if you are facing harassment or feel you are being targeted. We
would also like to raise awareness for the European Legal Support Center (ELSC),
which defends advocates of Palestinian rights across the UK.

Secondly, as anti-racist members of the UK trade union movement, our affiliation lies
with those who are oppressed and marginalised. Our shared trade union and antiracism
history has been enriched by the solidarity between struggles for selfdetermination
and equality around the world. This has been informed by the antiimperialism
of activist scholars such as Stuart Hall, CLR James, and Angela Davis,
and of course the legacy of the British Black Panthers and Darcus Howe, Althea
Jones-Lecointe, and others, shaped our political histories. It's been heartening to see
the internationalist affinity amongst the marginalised and the global dynamic of
solidarity. The kinship between Black political voices about Palestine in the past week
has been extraordinary, especially their reminder that decolonisation is not a
metaphor. As has been documented and repeatedly shown in examples over the past
days - where for instance activists for Black Lives in Ferguson who received support
from Palestine and are now returning this radical love - this is an important heritage.
And this spirit is also thanks to those in the Black radical tradition in Britain who paved
the way before us, we have a platform today as Black workers in unions. This year is
the 50th anniversary of the National Conference of Trade Unionists Against Racism,
its wide-ranging deliberations about black autonomy in the unions indeed need to be
recognised and we will not allow this heritage to be swept under the carpet in order to
be seen as acceptable. We do not perform our presence as evidence of diversity in
the union but we convey our diversity in the way we co-shape the policies of the union.
Black politics is about the struggle for equality for our class, for internationalism and
for liberation solidarity. These are the core ethics for which we stand and for that
reason the BMSC deplores the injunction to condemn acts and the demand to address
"both sides" when discussing Palestine. This is not whataboutism but a basic
understanding of the power structure shaping the colonised versus the coloniser. As
Desmond Tutu said, 'If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the
side of the oppressor.' Some may think that not explicitly condemning or publicly
grieving is akin to accepting the indiscriminate murder of civilians. We want to reiterate
loudly that calling attention to the systematic discrimination of Palestinians
and/or criticising the Israeli government for its contravention of international law must
not be conflated with antisemitism. In fact, where it concerns Palestine/Israel, how to
grieve is a political question whether we like it or not. This is an important reminder
that the demands for such public expressions constitutes the structural and everyday
racism we reject. This is not separate from a longer existing racism faced by our
Muslim and Arab colleagues in particular who are subject to Prevent policies that are
broadly identified as racist and which, in turn, exist in part due to a dehumanising
narrative that exists when dealing with Palestine.

We highlight that our union's Congress carried several motions this year reaffirming
its commitment to solidarity with Palestinian liberation. These include: a duty to
report on the moral and political consequences of Israeli policies with regards to
attacks on academic freedom; to protect students and staff under attack for supporting
the cause of the Palestinian people; to continue to pledge support for Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). We thus reiterate that UCU reaffirms its commitment
to policies in support of the Palestinian struggle against settler colonisation, including
supporting the campaign for BDS against Israel, and against the IHRA working
definition of antisemitism. We pledge wholehearted support to our Palestinian
educator colleagues whose universities have been bombed and who face an
unprecedented challenge in continuing with their work. We send our solidarity to the
Palestinian University Union and we ask others to do the same.

Last updated: 25 March 2024