Balaclava-wearing members of Justice for Palestine Society ‘occupy’ campus building

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Balaclava-wearing members of Justice for Palestine Society ‘occupy’ campus building

Students broke into Edinburgh University's Gordon Aikman building, camped overnight and said their action was a call for divestment from companies 'complicit in Israeli genocide'

  • Protest and break in at Edinburgh University, Day 2, 28th February 2024
    Protest and break in at Edinburgh University, Day 2, 28th February 2024
  • Protest and break in at Edinburgh University, Day 2, 28th February 2024
    Protest and break in at Edinburgh University, Day 2, 28th February 2024
  • Pic: University of Edinburgh, February 2024
    Pic: University of Edinburgh, February 2024
  • Protest and break in at Edinburgh University, Day 2, 28th February 2024
    Protest and break in at Edinburgh University, Day 2, 28th February 2024

Jewish students in Edinburgh have told Jewish News they are increasingly concerned for their safety following the second day of an intimidating sit-in protest by a group from the university’s Justice for Palestine Society (EUJPS).

On Monday night, students broke into the Gordon Aikman campus building, camped overnight and on Tuesday claimed on their Instagram account that they were “occupying” it to demand divestment from companies “complicit in Israeli apartheid and genocide”.

The lecture theatre remains ‘occupied’, with the protesters banning entry to other students. Jewish News understands that food and drinks are being brought in and at least two security guards are standing outside.

Also protesting inside the building in solidarity with the Edinburgh University Justice for Palestine Society (EUJPS), are members from Vegans for Animal Liberation and Ethical Revolution in Edinburgh (VALERIE), Staff-Student Solidarity Network (SSSN), Edinburgh Youth in Resistance, and Jewish student group, Edinburgh University Kehillah, which stands in solidarity with Palestine, advocates for “Judaism beyond Zionism” and whose stated aims include a “rejection of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and inclusion in actively looking for an alternative.”

Instagram for Edinburgh University Kehillah

Former Edinburgh JSoc secretary Amelia Barzilay told Jewish News: “Walking to our lectures this morning, we discovered a university building occupied by Palestine Society students. Menacingly wearing balaclavas, they had broken in to the building overnight and had hung flags as well as signs that make Jewish students fearful for their safety.

“One of the more disturbing demands is that the university reverses its adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Campus university security informed us that ‘there was nothing they could do’, even though UoE (University of Edinburgh) protest guidelines for staff and students clearly state that protests must not ‘block access to events or buildings in which events are taking place or obstruct people passing by’. The taking over of the building has meant lectures and tutorials have been relocated last minute and has added to the fearfulness of Jewish students on campus.

Screenshot: Instagram, Edinburgh University Justice for Palestine Society

“We are becoming increasingly troubled with the lack of clear response from campus security and the university leadership.”

Screenshot: Edinburgh University Justice for Palestine Society Instagram

Tom Chesno, StandWithUs UK fellow and founder of Edinburgh Friends of Israel told Jewish News: “The abuse of buzzwords around campus, like genocide and apartheid, to falsely portray the reality in Israel is a tactic used by ardent antisemites to swing popular opinion.

“This is an attempt to manipulate the average student, hoping they will not see the importance in understanding the nuances. We have already seen large protests on campus and now a student sit-in that has obnoxiously disrupted classes and students looking for quiet spaces to study.

“Jewish students are increasingly feeling more ostracised from the rest of the student body, as we have seen similar patterns of increasing antisemitism at other major institutions. The University’s lack of willingness to curtail this rise in antisemitism is concerning, as the anti-Israel narrative disseminates without pushback.”

A spokesperson from the corporate communications team at The University of Edinburgh told Jewish News: “The continuing violence and loss of life in Palestine is deeply distressing and we understand the strength of feeling on this issue. We support the right to take part in lawful, peaceful and respectful protest, however, we do not support protestors preventing access to a building. We are working to relocate any affected teaching and other activities to avoid disruption for the rest of our community.”

As reported by Jewish News, following an interview UoE JSoc president, Elie Glaser, conducted with independent campus newspaper The Student articulating the fears of Jewish students, the subsequent online backlash was so horrific that comments on the newspaper’s Instagram page had to be disabled.

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