• The SU and UCU presented an open letter to University administration demanding official condemnation of “Israel’s colonial genocide” and action by Sussex at the end of April.
  • Following a meeting with representatives, VC Roseneil responded publicly and confirmed the University refuses to take an institutional position.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Sasha Roseneil has defended the University of Sussex Executive Team’s decision to “not [take] a specific institutional position on the conflict in Israel-Gaza/Palestine.” 

In a message sent to all staff and students on 2 May, VC Roseneil said “I believe the University as an institution should refrain from making statements about matters that are external to the running of the organisation.” This statement was made following a meeting between the Executive Team and representatives of the Students’ Union (SU) and University and College Union (UCU) on 1 May that discussed their open letter asking for Sussex to “publicly condemn Israel’s colonial genocide in Gaza.”

The open letter called on the University Executive Team to “fully divest from all companies that are complicit in Israel’s genocide in Gaza, publicly disclose full details of all the University investments, and commit against making future investments in companies that are complicit in Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid.” Divestment forms a central part of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, which has been endorsed by the SU and UCU since 2015. While the University does have an existing “Socially responsible section of Investment Management Policy”, the past and current investment portfolio seems to compromise the principles laid out, in particular, the “promotion of human rights” and of “international cooperation and an end to international conflict.” 

Based on Freedom of Information requests by Sussex students and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the University has investments totalling £20,916,240.57 in corporations or funds complicit in Israel’s genocidal attacks. This includes almost £14.5 million invested in Barclays Bank, which invests in companies known to support the Israeli military, and over £100,000 in Siemens, which amongst other concerns is “participating in [a] high-speed train project that crosses the Green Line into the occupied West Bank in two areas, using occupied Palestinian land for an Israeli transportation project aimed exclusively for Israelis.” For a full breakdown of the complicit investments, read the open letter.

In her 2 May statement, Roseneil conceded “it is right that we review our policy, testing it with our community, and seeking best-practice in ethical investment.” She announced “I will be recommending to Council that we establish a new group, which will include student and staff representatives, to review [the Socially Responsible Investment Policy].” She made no guarantee that campus unions would be included. While this is regarded as a win for campaigners on campus, more significant is the repeated refusal to publicly condemn Israel’s actions. 

UCU Sussex commented on the VC’s response following their meeting: “Between 2022 and 2024 the University of Sussex had already reduced its investment in companies complicit in Israeli colonialism. What is gained by doing half a job, and doing it quietly? Sussex needs to build on these past actions, hold true to its institutional value of courage, and follow SOAS and the University of Glasgow in condemning genocide.”

In an email to a concerned student in November, Roseneil said “Taking a position risks alienating some members of our community,” a position she maintains. “We are, and must continue to be, a site of intellectual disagreement and contestation.” 

Members of Sussex’s Friends of Palestine society commented on Instagram (@sussexuni_fop): “[The response is] absolutely infuriating and very offensive to all of us. By NOT divesting [the University executives] ARE making a statement, which is pro-Israel and thus pro-genocide.”

Sussex has historically made institutional statements condemning the war in Ukraine, South African apartheid and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The University of Sussex Anti-Racism Working Group has denounced the University’s “incoherent position on apartheid in South Africa and Palestine,” pointing out the hypocrisy of their statements and actions on other global issues but not on Palestine. The group also alleges other actions Sussex has taken to “discourage Palestinian solidarity activism” including threatening students with “serious implications” for posting online and “trying to intimidate academics.” In February, they reported that “students and staff, particularly those from the global South, have testified to a culture of fear and intimidation on campus.”

VC Roseneil’s message pointed to the University’s “rejection of antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism and hostility towards Palestinians, and all other forms of discrimination and harassment,” but many on campus feel that actions speak louder than words. The rejection of most of the requests in the student, faculty, and staff unions’ open letter stands to demonstrate the erosion of Sussex’s position as a liberal, inclusive, and courageous university.

Steve Jackson, one of the SU FTO’s, said in his personal capacity: “People should read Professor Roseneil’s words and make their own minds up. Personally I find myself thinking about what I’d be doing if I was in the Vice-Chancellor’s position. I’d be fighting to do everything possible, everything in my power, to take a stand against genocide. Instead we’ve got a University leadership that’s seemingly trying to get away with doing as little as possible. I think students and staff, and the history books, will be right to question that.”

For those interested in supporting the pro-Palestine movement, sign the open letter, engage with demonstrations, and participate in the boycott of Israeli goods. A new Sussex for Palestine Campaign organised by Sussex students for further action has been set up: @sussex4palestine.campaign on Instagram. 

Image taken by Zeeshan Tirmizi

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