LONDON: Various civil society organizations have decried a call by the UK’s education secretary for students who repeat a popular pro-Palestine chant to be referred to the police.
Nadhim Zahawi was referring to the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and equated it with support for Hamas.
Asked whether universities should investigate students who join in this chant, he told the Jewish Chronicle: “Absolutely. This is a proscribed organization. And I think any proscribed organization should be reported to the police and authorities.”
But a number of groups have hit back at that idea. In a joint statement, the National Union of Students, the University and College Union, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said Zahawi’s comments “are part of the wider crackdown on civil liberties being waged by this government.”
The chant “is one widely used by Palestinians and those protesting in solidarity with their struggle for justice,” and Zahawi’s portrayal of it is “incorrect,” they added.
“These comments should deeply alarm not only all those concerned with the struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom, justice, and equality, but anyone who wishes to preserve democratic freedoms from authoritarian encroachment.”
According to the PSC, students have long played a role in dismantling racist apartheid systems — as the situation in Palestine was recently labeled by Amnesty International — and this could be why the government is keen to shut them down.
“Students were central to creating a climate in the UK in which South African apartheid was untenable,” Stella Swain, PSC youth and students officer told Arab News.
“Since 2011, the government has actively pursued the atomization of students and their campaigns, but the attempt to make Palestine a niche issue has failed,” she said.
“Palestinian flags are seen at every student demonstration, from UCU strikes to decolonization rallies, because students understand Palestinian liberation as central to the liberation of oppressed peoples across the world.”
Larissa Kennedy, NUS national president, said: “To say that when students chant in support of the liberation of Palestinians who live under military occupation they should be reported to the police is a further demonstration of this government’s authoritarian intentions and their disregard for human rights.
“Palestinians have made clear that this chant speaks to the reality of living under a system of apartheid which denies basic rights.”
She added: “It is unconscionable that the secretary of state would suggest otherwise — Zahawi must withdraw his remarks.”