Current Affairs

Oriel students condemn “antisemitic tropes” at the Rhodes Must Fall protest

Students at Oriel College have condemned a speaker at the Rhodes Must Fall protest, following his comments linking police brutality in the United States with the Israeli army.

During Tuesday’s protest, a University of Leeds student stated that Palestinians stand in solidarity with “black people everywhere”, and that the two groups must realise that their “oppressors are united”. The speaker made further claims, including, “the American police are trained by the Israel oppression army”. He then accused his university of supporting an “Israel apartheid” and investing in companies that “are complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people”.

The protest, which called for the removal of the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College, was hosted by the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, following petitions that called for Oxford University to recognise and condemn its imperial past. 

According to The JC, Oriel’s MCR Equality and Diversity Officer, Euan McGivern, was present at the protest and condemned the Leeds student for his statements. He told The JC that the speaker’s comment linking anti-blackness and police brutality to Israel is a part of “the antisemitic tropes” that bring up Israel where “you wouldn’t really expect Israel to be relevant”. When he suggested that the speaker was being antisemitic, McGivern states that he was met with “threatening stares”, and he felt this hostility left him no other option but to leave the protest. Since the protest, multiple students have approached McGivern with concerns about the Leeds student’s remarks. McGivern has told The Oxford Blue that they’ve been waiting for a comment from Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) “since Friday”.

Lola Salem, a second-year DPhil student at St John’s College, commends McGivern for speaking out. She told The Blue that McGivern made sure that the students affected by Tuesday’s events were supported. As a mixed-race, ethnically Jew student, Salem states that she is “worried to see that some students in Oxford (as in other universities) repeatedly minimise the worries of European Jews”. She added that while she supports the constructive efforts of the RMFO movement, she hopes that “we’re not moving forward with one cause” at the expense of others.

Earlier this week, Al Jazeera published an article making similar assertions that the United States and Israel exchange “tactics and expertise in state violence”. The article references the protests following George Floyd’s murder, and how Palestinians shared tips on social media on how to best handle “rubber-coated bullets, tear gas canisters, pepper spray” and other assaults conducted by the US riot police.

Both Oriel College and RMFO have been contacted for further comment.

Kanengo Diallo

Kanengo Diallo is the Senior Global Affairs & Outreach Editor at The Oxford Blue. She's a second-year student studying English Language & Literature at St Hugh's College. Outside of her studies, she has a keen interest in development journalism and exploring heritage in postcolonial societies. She enjoys writing about the intersections of race and culture in socio-political phenomena.