Today (1/11/21) Cambridge students and local activists united to demand that the university sever its ties to the arms industry, which for the sake of profit is contributing to the deaths of innocents all over the world. The SU Ethical Affairs Campaign, Cambridge Defend Education, the Cambridge Palestine Solidarity Society, and the Amnesty International Society were the student groups present; local activist groups Stop the War and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign also attended.

The four key demands of the Demilitarise Cambridge Coalition to the University administration are these:

  1. Stop accepting donations and research grants from arms companies implicated in human rights abuses.
  2. End all research and investment by the University in association with arms companies implicated in human rights abuses.
  3. Establish a programme to find alternative modes of funding for researchers.
  4. End formal consultancy and training of arms companies implicated in human rights abuses.

I delivered the following remarks as a representative of the Palestine Society:

Some of you might know that last term the Palestine Society’s open letter, which pointed out the University’s complicity in the oppression of Palestinians, received over 1,600 signatures from students, alumni, and faculty. Vice-Chancellor Toope responded to our open letter, saying ‘I am saddened over the loss of life and suffering caused by the recent escalation of violence’. He also expressed his hope for ‘the resolution of ongoing conflict in the region.’

What Vice-Chancellor Toope neglected to mention is that Cambridge is not a neutral actor in the crises and violence that affect our world; Cambridge has chosen a side. It has chosen the side of arms companies, and as a natural consequence of that choice is ignoring the plight of the victims of those companies and treating their lives as unworthy of our concern or consideration.

What does Cambridge’s relationship with the arms industry mean concretely?

According to research by Human Rights Watch, bombs and bomb guidance kits produced by Boeing were used in Israel’s deadly May 2021 assault on Gaza. On May 15, an Israeli air strike destroyed a three-story building comprised of shops and homes in the al-Shati refugee camp. The camp is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Ten people were killed – two women and eight of their children. According to HRW, it is likely a Boeing bomb was used in the attack. HRW also concluded that strikes on al-Wahda street in Gaza involved bomb guidance kits produced by Boeing. Shortly after Israel’s attacks on Gaza were completed, attacks which B’Tselem and other human rights organisations denounced as war crimes, Boeing proceeded to sell more arms to Israel, including more bombs and bomb guidance kits.

Last year, Cambridge accepted grants worth nearly £1 million from Boeing. The question for the administration is, how can the University in one moment condemn the loss of life and suffering, and in the next moment accept money from the purveyors of that death and misery? How can the University reconcile any concern for humanity with its continued partnership with this deadly arms trade?

Last year, when the University announced that it would begin divesting from fossil fuels, Vice-Chancellor Toope cited the ‘pressing environmental and moral need for action’.

Today, we tell the university that there is a pressing moral need for action on the University’s ties to arms companies that are supporting grave criminal acts. The University must change, and it can start by implementing the four demands of the Demilitarise Cambridge Coalition.

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