Sunday, May 26, 2024

Ashoka University students demand cut-off of ties with Tel Aviv University over complicity in Gaza genocide, admin says “university does not take political stances”

Upholding the Palestinian demand for a boycott of Israeli universities complicit in the genocidal war on Gaza, the student government at Ashoka University called on the administration to suspend institutional ties with Tel Aviv University.

The call for divestment was made as a group of students on campus launched a campaign against the heinous war crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians.

The petition

On May 4, the elected student body formally sent a petition to the Vice Chancellor. 

As of May 13, the petition has been signed by 442 students, 105 alumni, and 39 faculty members.

The statement in the petition expressed deep concern over the ongoing Israeli onslaught on Gaza and sought the university to cut all ties with Tel Aviv University, which has strong ties to Israel’s military and weapons producers, and has crowdfunded for “care” packages for its soldiers.

“The university’s collaboration with institutions involved in human rights violations undermines our commitment to justice and human rights. This includes Tel Aviv’s ties with Israeli weapons manufacturers like Elbit Systems. Professors from Tel Aviv University have been involved in drafting the Israeli Occupation Force’s (IOF) code of ethics, providing legal defense to IOF members for war crimes and drafting doctrines that dictate military operations,” the petition stated.

The statement also mentioned how Tel Aviv University continues to further Zionist propaganda and receive funds from weapon manufacturers, while all universities in Gaza have been demolished by Israeli occupation forces.

According to Ashoka University’s website, it has a research partnership with Tel Aviv University, which includes “faculty visits for teaching, student mobility (outbound and inbound), research collaboration, short-term study opportunities, as well as joint programmes.”

Following the protests initiated by universities across the world and the popular Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, the student body of Ashoka University finds it a moral imperative to hold every educational institution that is against the spirit of human rights accountable.

The petition asked the university administration to “immediately suspend all existing academic and research collaborations with Tel Aviv University,” and to “refrain from entering into any new agreements or partnerships” until substantial measures are taken to address the concerns raised by reputable human rights organisations.

The plea also raised the need to foster dialogue and consultation with relevant stakeholders, including Palestinian rights advocates, “to ensure that the university’s actions align with international standards of human rights and justice.”

“University does not take political stances”

On May 7, a delegation of the student body met with the Office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor to discuss the demands of the petition. 

Though the administration diplomatically empathised with the petition, it stated that it “under no circumstances would consider ending its ties with Tel Aviv University over the matter.”

The administration maintained that ending relations with Tel Aviv University would constitute a “political stance” that the university is unwilling to take. 

The “university does not take political stances,” the Ashoka administration said, as quoted by student body representatives.

The response of the administration was met with sharp criticism from the students.

“We cannot pretend that the existence of the university is not political unless we intend to be intellectually dishonest in doing so,” Sankalp Dasmohapatra, outgoing President of the Student Government, said.

“Ashoka University and India are not isolated from the genocide we are witnessing. India is the world’s top importer of Israeli weapons. The settler-coloniser tactics of oppression, violence, and land grabbing practised by the Zionist State in Palestine as well as the technology they use find direct parallels in the actions of the Indian government in Kashmir,” a student, maintaining anonymity, told Maktoob.

On May 10, the students had a public meeting regarding the issue, where the student community reiterated its position. 

“Ashoka and its administration and founders are far from an apolitical institution. Was it not political when Ashoka invited a BJP politician in Spring 2023 for a session at Ashoka, or when the admin put pressure on students screening a documentary on the Ram Mandir but allowed a prayer ceremony conducted in celebration of the same, or when Ashoka refused to protect Professor Sabyasachi?” a collective statement of the students asked.”

“Is it not political when every university in Gaza has been destroyed and this institution chooses to support a university that aided this destruction?” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Ali Khan Mahmudabad, an Associate Professor and the head of the Political Science department at the university, endorsed the petition and issued a statement of solidarity.

In an open letter circulated among the students, he explained how Tel Aviv University is deeply entrenched in supporting, justifying, and benefiting from the occupation. 

“Tel Aviv University has partnerships with Israel’s largest weapons manufacturers and houses the Institute for National Security Studies, which is the originator of the so-called ‘Dahiya doctrine” of using a scorched earth policy of disproportionate force targeting civilian infrastructure and civilian population,” Professor Khan wrote.

“I feel the university must also have a clear position that it will neither accept funding from any defence companies nor from individuals or organisations that profit from war,” he added.

Despite the administration’s reluctance to engage with their arguments, the students told Maktoob that they have decided to continue to put pressure on the authorities by not collaborating with programmes by or with Tel Aviv University.

Several batches of students have sent emails with a pledge to break ties with Tel Aviv University and stand with the Palestinian cause.

The death toll of Palestinians killed in Gaza has risen to 35,034, with 78,755 others injured since Israel’s war on Gaza began on October 7, according to the health ministry.

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