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UCU Sussex Executive Committee statement on the policing of free speech

Curtailing of Palestinian solidarity and academic freedom on campus

UCU Sussex Executive Committee expresses our unequivocal solidarity with the people of Palestine.

We express our sadness and devastation at the recent immense suffering and loss of life in Palestine and Israel and we unequivocally condemn the murder of civilians, no matter their religion or nationality.

In the context of escalating genocidal violence in Gaza, we express our strongest support for members of our University community whose rights to academic freedom and safety in the workplace are under threat by increased surveillance and criminalisation of those who speak out in defence of Palestinians. We welcome the Vice Chancellor’s guiding principles, which reiterate the University’s commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech. At a time when many on campus are feeling the silencing effect of increased state surveillance of speech on this issue, this renewed public commitment is much needed and should be taken up by UK universities more broadly.

We call on our University leaders to make the crucial acknowledgement, though, that threats to academic freedom are not now, nor are they ever, evenly distributed. No commitment to the protection of academic freedom is meaningful without such an acknowledgement.

Recent interventions by the Home Secretary, Secretary for Education, and Immigration Minister, which include efforts to criminalise expressions of solidarity with Palestinians, show that threats to academic freedom and workplace safety currently are targeted overwhelmingly at Palestinian, Muslim, racialised and migrant members of our community. Universities need to act, now and with urgency, in this context to uphold their obligations to all their staff and students.

In this context too, we reject the conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism and express our concern at increased anti-Palestinian racism, as well as anti-Muslim and antisemitic attacks in the UK and internationally. A shared logic of dehumanization underlies anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish and anti-Black racism, and they must all be fought and rejected without compromise.

As a trade union representing professional and academic staff at Sussex, we commit to supporting members who are facing efforts to undermine their freedom of conscience and right to dissent. We welcome the VC’s commitment to safeguard academic freedom and freedom of speech, which echoes the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) call for all universities “to reassure academic staff that the right to education, freedom of speech, and academic freedom will be protected; and to affirm that the expression of unpopular and controversial views is an inevitable and crucial part of academic freedom and protected by law.”

Building on the VC’s recent statement, we call on our University leadership to deepen and meet its commitment to academic freedom for all in our community by:

  • ensuring that educators are able to carry out conversations in the classroom and public sphere without the fear of surveillance or reprisal from the University and state authorities.

  • taking a principled position against the encroachment of government, racialized surveillance practices, Prevent, and the police into the public life of universities in ways that curtail a space for academic freedom and dissent.

  • taking seriously and acting on the findings of the report by BRISMES and ELSC. This report has established that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not fit for purpose or internally consistent, conflating legitimate critique of Israel with antisemitism, putting at risk the careers and livelihoods of those who support Palestinian freedom and undermining the possibility of real solidarity and opposition to racism in all its forms.

UCU Sussex Executive Committee


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