Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys for The Oxford Student

Palestine Society representatives meet with Vice-Chancellor

The Oxford Palestine Society has posted a statement alleging that the Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey “failed to answer” the group’s demands following a meeting with representatives to discuss the University’s response to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In the statement, the society, alongside Rhodes Scholars for Palestine, allege Tracey “evaded addressing [their] demands” at the meeting and has now not provided the response promised with a deadline of 3rd November.

A spokesperson for the University set out that “[the] petition deadline for response was one given by the students and the VC did not agree to respond by a specific date, as she has to discuss all such issues very broadly, as she explained to the students. She will respond directly to those students presently.”

This follows a petition released by the society over two weeks ago “to urge the Vice-Chancellor to speak and act against the ongoing genocide enacted by Israel against the Palestinian people”.

It also highlights that Oxford is in the top 5 universities in the UK to accept arms funding from companies found by Amnesty International to fail “to demonstrate adequate human rights due diligence”.

Representatives from Rhodes Scholars for Palestine and Oxford Palestine Society then met with the Vice-Chancellor to put forward their demands.

These demands include “releasing a public statement condemning Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinian people”, “severing financial ties to all arms manufacturers and companies complicit in Israel’s occupation and destruction of Gaza”, and to protect “any members of the University facing ethno-religious harassment, intimidation, and threats”.

The statement references that the meeting was followed up with “clear, actionable items for the Vice-Chancellor to accept, consider for further discussion or reject”. In the responses during the meeting, the statement claims that the Vice-Chancellor “evaded addressing [their] demands”.

They quote the Vice-Chancellor claiming that the University “as a non-political organisation, is not in the position to make political statements.” In response, the statement references the University’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, including supporting “Ukrainians’ right to freedom and self-determination”.

The statement goes on to detail that the Vice-Chancellor viewed the case of Ukraine as “different” due to the UK government sanctions placed on Russia. The reply expresses concern over “mirroring” government policy, noting the University’s status as an “independent, self-governing institution”.

They also mention that the Vice-Chancellor said that the language around the situation is “difficult to get right”, with the University working hard to keep updating its messaging. The societies respond that “the language is quite simple”, and that the University should “call for an immediate ceasefire”, “condemn Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians”, and “denounce the inhumane, illegal complete siege of Gaza”.

In a comment to The Oxford Student, a spokesperson for the University expressed “[the] Vice-Chancellor has been meeting with representatives of all the student groups affected by the terrible crisis situation in the Middle East. She will continue to do so going forwards. She is very grateful for the time the students have spent with her.

“The University has been clear in all its communications about its recognition of the desperate and tragic humanitarian crisis and loss of life, as well as the need for a peaceful solution for the peoples of Israel and Palestine.

“The focus of the collegiate university has been to ensure the community within Oxford remains together, has access to welfare support and other needs during this period, and that there is zero tolerance for any form of Islamophobia or antisemitism within our university.

“The VC and student representatives of the petition discussed a range of issues and the explanation on various points mentioned was more detailed than that given here, notably on Ukraine.”

Over 1,900 students, staff, faculty, and alumni have currently signed the petition. The statement concludes by stating that “[they] reiterate our demands”, and that “[they] will not be silenced”.

The statement concludes that due to the University continuing to “equivocate around the topic of Palestine” it “remains complicit in the ongoing genocide”.

This follows multiple protests in the past few weeks in Oxford supporting Palestine, including two protests last week calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, which were attended in large numbers.

Image Credit: Cameron Samuel Keys for The Oxford Student

Image Description: recent protest for Palestine outside the Radcliffe Camera