Students occupied the Arts A2 lecture theatre in protest over the continuing Israeli military action in Gaza, following a speech from a controversial British-Palestinian academic that drew an audience of hundreds of students last Tuesday evening.
Dr. Azzam Tamimi joined other pro-Palestinian advocates from the London School of Economics (LSE) and the Stop the War Coalition at an event in the Arts A2 lecture theatre, where he passionately defended Hamas and emphasized the need for an international coalition to stand against Israel’s occupation of Gaza.
Dr. Tamimi spoke for about 20 minutes in his initial speech, denouncing Zionist principles and the Israeli action in Gaza.
A spokeswoman from the Stop the War Coalition said the British Government and British corporations ought to sever their ties with the “fascist war machine” Israel, highlighting its history of repeated human rights violations and war crimes.
The majority of the audience was in strong support, cheering loudly and banging the tables. One dissenting voice said it would have been nice to have had a pro-Israeli presence, indicating that the meeting was one-sided.
But Dr. Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought and a prominent member of the Stop the War Coalition, was almost not allowed to appear at the University at all, after a meeting of the Union Council was split evenly over whether to allow him to speak. Laura Tazzioli, University of Sussex Students’ Union President, made the casting vote in favour of Tamimi after the eighteen votes on the council were split with eight for, eight against, and two abstaining.
Dr. Tamimi faces opposition because of his associations with Hamas and his previous comments in support of suicide bombing. In an interview with the BBC in 2006, Tamimi said he would be a suicide bomber if he could get into Palestine.
“I cannot get in because I am not counted as a Palestinian”, he said. “Sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity.”
Those against Dr. Tamimi’s visit to Sussex also cited his links to Hamas, claiming that the group is a terrorist organisation and that allowing Tamimi to speak would violate the No Platform for Fascists policy. Supporters for Dr. Tamimi’s visit pushed the idea that Hamas isn’t officially a fascist organisation, and therefore does not violate the No Platform Policy. The policy prevents racist and fascist organisations like the BNP and Hizb ut-Tahrir from participating in union affairs or speaking on campus.
‘Dr. Tamimi faces opposition because of his associations with Hamas and his previous comments in support of suicide bombing.’
Hamas is defined as a terrorist organisation by many governments around the world. Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades, is defined as a terrorist organisation by the British government.
Reactions to the decision were divided. One student, who chose to be anonymous, stated: “Allowing [Dr. Tamimi] to speak really improves Sussex’s free speech image.” Others felt that someone with links to Hamas and who had endorsed suicide bombing had no place at Sussex.
Following the event, 83 of the 270 attendees stayed to occupy the Arts A2 lecture theatre, demanding that the University officially condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza, cease pro-Israeli investments, boycott Israeli goods, create three fully paid scholarships for those unable to attend university in Gaza, send surplus university resources to Gaza University, and agree to take no action against the students involved in the occupation.
Students at the LSE have been occupying a lecture theatre for the past week, as a protest against the LSE’s investment in Israeli corporations. Students developed a plan to occupy the lecture hall until LSE cuts off its ties with the corporations and awards scholarships to children caught up in the Gaza crisis.
One of the students in the occupation came to talk about the success so far, and how this strategy has caught on in a few other universities across Britain, including Kings College London, Essex University and Birmingham University.