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Jo Johnson and Steve Smith – cancel your trip to Israel

This petition had 656 supporters

We, the undersigned, are disappointed at reports that the British Universities Minister Jo Johnson, and the Vice-Chancellor of Exeter University Sir Steve Smith, are leading a delegation to Israel in May.

The ethical guidelines of the University of Exeter state that the University should not invest in “actions that undermine community cohesion, threaten international stability or breach international law”; to “underpin our external affairs with ethical considerations”; and to promote “the observance of the rule of law”. All of these accounts are incompatible with a delegation to Israel.

Sir Smith has said that the trip will be a “show of support for academic links with Israel”. This is problematic on many levels.

According to the website of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Israeli academic institutions are deeply involved in the oppression of the Palestinians, and in practices considered illegal under international law. Tel Aviv University, for instance, has been involved in developing weapon systems and doctrines which have led to the deaths of thousands of civilians in Israel’s attacks on Gaza and Lebanon. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is built partly on illegally occupied land in East Jerusalem. Human Rights Watch has found evidence of racial discrimination against Palestinians in the Israeli education system.

Israel has also worked systematically to undermine Palestinian universities and deny Palestinian students their education. The Right to Education campaign at Birzeit University has found that Israeli soldiers have repeatedly raided university campuses, destroying and confiscating university property, detained students for long periods of time, and prevented students from attending classes through the system of military checkpoints. The Islamic University of Gaza (pictured) was bombed by the Israeli military (more than 200 targets hit in 24 hours) on August 2nd 2014.

Britain supported UN Security Council resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank in December 2016. It is, however, highly likely that as part of the visit to Israel, Minister Johnson, Vice-Chancellor Smith and others would be taken onto illegally occupied land, including East Jerusalem.

Steve Smith has claimed that he was a member of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. One of the foremost campaigners against apartheid in South Africa is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said “[The Palestinians’] humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.” Earlier this month, the UN released a report accusing Israel of apartheid practices against the Palestinian people.

We the undersigned ask Steve Smith, Jo Johnson and all who have been invited to take part in this delegation to listen to their consciences, and to be on the right side of history. We ask them to follow the university of Exeter ethical guidelines and the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions issued by Palestinians under occupation, and ask them to demonstrate their commitment to justice by cancelling their visit.

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