Open Letter Penned in Solidarity with Palestine

Open Letter Penned in Solidarity with Palestine

Academics call on the University to express support for overseas student protests

Lecturers are calling on their students to stand up in protest against the brutal suppression of anti-Israeli protests in the USA. The call comes in the form of an open letter addressed to the University of Otago, which aims to secure a pledge of solidarity with students and faculty from multiple institutions in the United States. Underlying this call for solidarity is a desire for the University to “endorse their actual goals, which is a demand of a ceasefire and this long term demand of ending apartheid.”

Responding to a request for comment, Acting Vice-Chancellor Helen Nicholson stated, “We will consider this letter we have received today and reply to the staff who sent it.” Continuing, Nicholson stated, “The University of Otago remains committed to the importance of peaceful protest and the right to freedom of expression […] The University also recognises it is imperative for our academics to feel able to speak on areas of their expertise, including the events happening in Gaza.”

The open letter, established by a group of academic staff within the Humanities, is open to all University staff and students. As well as securing support for colleagues in the United States, the letter also aims to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement (which has seen companies like Starbucks and Maccas boycotted over their economic ties to Israel) and “disclose and divest from any economic ties to the apartheid state of Israel.” 

Speaking to this issue in particular, Politics lecturer Dr David Jenkins said, “The material losses that Otago might suffer as a consequence of something like BDS is pretty minimal.” In her reply to the open letter, Nicholson said, “To the best of my knowledge the University does not have any economic ties to Israel.”

On the letter’s aims more broadly, Jenkins told Critic Te Ārohi that “we are a university and these are students,” referring to the US students who are being prosecuted by police. “They are engaged in peaceful, somewhat disruptive, protest […] and they’re experiencing brutality. We think there's a duty for the University to come out in solidarity with those faculty and students who are engaged in peaceful protest.”

Jenkins also pointed out that an assurance of solidarity was a key aspect of the University meeting its Te Tiriti obligations, calling the experiences in Gaza “tantamount to settler colonialism.”

The open letter ends directly challenging the University, stating, “If the University of Otago wants to authentically position itself as an institution that takes seriously its role as a critic and conscience of society and acknowledges the importance of coming to grips with ongoing settler-colonial violence, it should take these demands seriously.” 

At time of print, the open letter has 25 signatories and is being considered by the University. If you are interested in being a signatory to the letter, you can pledge your allegiance here.

This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2024.
Posted 5:02pm Saturday 11th May 2024 by Hugh Askerud.