By Thomas Foster
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2907

Students on Palestine encampments have a message for Michael Gove

Students in Edinburgh, Leeds, Swansea and Soas in central London speak out after Gove’s attacks on the Palestine movement
Issue 2907
A crowd shot of the campus resistance bloc on the Nakba demo illustrating an article about Palestine encampments and Michael Gove

Students from Palestine encampments marched together on the last national demonstration in London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Students from the encampments across Britain have hit back against Tory communities secretary Michael Gove’s smears on the Palestine solidarity movement. 

Gove launched a full-fronted attack on the movement last week, and smeared the student encampments and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and other left groups as antisemitic. “The first thing I would ask is—has Michael Gove actually been to any of these encampments?” said Eva, a student involved in the Edinburgh university encampment.

Eva rejected Gove’s description of Palestine protesters as “setting the terms on which Jews will be accepted”. “If you attend an encampment, Jewish students aren’t just participating in a lot of them but are the leading students,” she said. 

“The encampments aren’t antisemitic and the Palestine movement isn’t antisemitic. Gove is purposefully misunderstanding what the Palestine movement calls for. It calls for the emancipation of the Palestinian people. 

“What Israel does is not in the name of Judaism but settler colonialism. It’s for the sake of Western countries maintaining their hegemony in the Middle and East and exploiting that area of the world.”

Gove directly attacked the Soas university encampment in central London for declaring solidarity with the Palestinian resistance. He claimed that meant “telling Jewish students they are not welcome unless they deny their own identity”.

A student staying at the Soas encampment argued that Gove is “conflating the state of Israel with Judaism”.

“Anti-Zionism doesn’t have anything to do with one religion,” they said. “It’s opposition to an ideology based on the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland and an opposition to ethnic cleansing.” 

They said that “anti-Zionism is at its core anti-colonialism”. “It’s motivated by a desire for everyone to live equally no matter what your faith or ethnicity,” the student added. 

“Students are fighting for a free and equal world—that isn’t antisemitic. The encampment is grounded in anti-racist principles, opposing all forms of racism.”

Gove also attacked Leeds university students for spreading “antisemitic blood libel”. Benji, a student at the Leeds university encampment, told Socialist Worker, “It’s a wild statement—and completely untrue.

“The encampment is a space that includes Jewish students. We have Shabbat meals every Friday and prayer spaces.”

Benji added, “The encampment is a space for education with people of all backgrounds involved. International students, students from Muslim, Jewish and all communities come together.”

In his speech, Gove claimed that the West and Israel prosper because they have “free markets, enlightenment values, liberal parliamentarianism, property rights and capitalism”. He describes the argument that the prosperity of the West is built on “exploitation and empire” as “inherently flawed”.

Jack, a student at the Swansea university encampment, told Socialist Worker, “Surely even Gove can’t deny that the British Empire took wealth from its colonies. Britain exploited the labour and resources of these nations.” 

He added that Israel’s prosperity is “due to its close ties to the United States and Britain”. These ties “aren’t based on any ‘liberal values’ but because of the military and diplomatic support that the West provides to Israel to further its own interests”.

“It’s the £240 billion in aid that the US has given since 1948 and being a watchdog for Western imperialism that explains it,” he said.

Gove also describes Israel as a “land of refugees and asylum seekers”. The Soas student said, “It’s absurd to call Israel a place for refugees when millions of Palestinian refugees live in exile with no right to return. Palestinians are denied fundamental democratic rights.”

Eva attacked Gove’s picture of Israel as a bastion of liberty. “Concern over refugees has never been at the centre of this. Look at the racism Ethiopian Jews have faced,” she said. “And the state of Israel is one that perpetuates constant violence towards its neighbours and sets out to wipe out the communities that live there.”

 

Jack rejected Gove’s claim that arguing for a singular democratic state in Palestine meant Jewish erasure. He said, “Jewish and Arab people have lived together in historic Palestine for thousands of years. It’s only the state of Israel that segregates people and makes this conflict what it is.”

Benji agreed, “Calling for a state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea means a state where everyone can live in dignity. Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of all communities can live without fear of violence, free to carry out their lives.”

Gove went on to attack decolonisation as undermining democratic values. “The goals of decolonisation and of Palestine are also goals for democracy,” the Soas student said. “We want students to have a say in how our tuition fees are spent. And we are fighting for the democratic rights of Palestinian. 

Jack added, “Gove only attacks decolonial theory because it points to his government as the root causes of this genocide. If Gove is talking about being anti-democratic, then we should be talking about Westminster ignoring the millions of people who have marched on the streets.

Gove claimed the far right and far left are the same, attacking both as antisemitic. The Soas student said the far right stands for hatred, bigotry and racism, while “the Palestine movement is fighting for the protection of human lives and liberation”. “There’s a difference—we are fighting for people to live without the threat of violence,” they said. 

Jack added that making out the far right and the far left to be the same “is something people do when trying to scare people away from radical politics”. “And it’s just plain wrong,” he said. Organisations such as the SWP “look towards Western imperialism as the root cause of the Israeli state.” 

Eva pointed out that Gove’s main concern “isn’t tackling prejudice of any sort”. What he really cares about is “perpetuating Western interests in the Middle East”.

Shea, a student at the Edinburgh university encampment, said, “The Palestinian resistance is not a threat to Jews. The greatest threat to the world is coming from him and Gove’s imperialist ilk.”

  • Saturday 8 June, Palestine national demo. 12noon, central London  
  • Sunday 9 June, Stop The War trade union conference 10.30am-4.30pm @ ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London, SE1 1DR

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