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‘Shame on you Rishi Sunak’: Activist at centre of US campus protests criticises PM’s continued funding of Israel

9 May 2024, 08:04 | Updated: 9 May 2024, 08:07

US activist at centre of Columbia Gaza demo speaks to LBC

Alan Zycinski

By Alan Zycinski

American activist Cornel West has told LBC that leaders of UK universities should be proud of their "awakened" students setting up Gaza protest camps.

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The American activist, philosopher and independent candidate for US President - who recently addressed crowds at the Columbia University demonstration which descended into chaos - spoke exclusively to us while visiting the University of Edinburgh.

He posed for photos on its grounds with students living in tents and taking part in hunger strikes over the situation in the Middle East.

His appearance comes amid reported "serious" concerns within the UK Government that these types of campus protests could escalate in a similar way they have in the States.

The Prime Minister has summoned university chiefs to a meeting later on Thursday, with demonstrations also underway in the likes of Bristol, Leeds, Warwick and London.

But Dr West said Rishi Sunak should be ashamed of himself - while the academic bosses he's meeting should be proud of their students.

Cornel West told LBC that Rishi Sunak should 'be ashamed'.
Cornel West told LBC that Rishi Sunak should 'be ashamed'. Picture: LBC

He said: "I think the UK Government and the American Government have a morally bankrupt policy. They're in denial about genocide. Genocide denying, to me, is morally bankrupt. And I don't see how they could not call into question their funding. The military and financial support of this kind of genocide.

"I would say [to the Prime Minister] shame on you. I would say what kind of moral fibre do you actually have that you could continue to fund this kind of massacring and murdering of people?

"And they would say, well, it's not a genocide. Well, whatever language you want to use. I would also say that these precious children that you see, if those children were British or Scottish or European or Israeli, would you have the same response?

"None of the students here are intentionally trying to intimidate anybody. Not at all.

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"But I would say to the leaders that they ought to be proud of the students who are bearing witness because they're representing the best of the tradition of the University of Edinburgh. The leaders are in denial, they're representing the worse of the tradition of the University of Edinburgh."

The University of Edinburgh has released a full statement and statement from its Principal  - while demonstrators have published a list of their demands on X.

Last month the UK Government released the following readout of the Prime Minister’s latest conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He reiterated the UK’s steadfast support for Israel’s security and for wider regional stability. Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the UK for its rapid and robust support in the face of Iran’s reckless and dangerous attack on Saturday.

“The Prime Minister said Iran had badly miscalculated and was increasingly isolated on the global stage, with the G7 coordinating a diplomatic response. He stressed that significant escalation was in no one’s interest and would only deepen insecurity in the Middle East. This was a moment for calm heads to prevail. 

Students living in tents and taking part in hunger strikes outside Edinburgh University over the situation in the Middle East.
Students living in tents and taking part in hunger strikes outside Edinburgh University over the situation in the Middle East. Picture: LBC

“On Gaza, the Prime Minister said he remained gravely concerned about the deepening humanitarian crisis. The UK wanted to see a massive step change in aid access to flood Gaza with vital supplies, including Israel opening up new aid routes as quickly as possible.

“The Prime Minister said it was deeply disappointing that Hamas blocked a deal at the weekend that would have saved Palestinian lives and secured the safe release of hostages.”

Israel strongly rejects any accusations around a genocide.

Cornel West told LBC academic bosses they should be proud of their students over the protests.
Cornel West told LBC academic bosses they should be proud of their students over the protests. Picture: LBC

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