SJP protest in The Journal

The Journal

An article by Marcus Kernohan about the career protest in The Journal newspaper (Wednesday 13 October 2010, Issue 38). Article on The Journal website here.

Edinburgh careers fair halted by student protest

Half-hour ‘die-in’ prompts University security to close hall

Student activists brought the University of Edinburgh’s careers fair to a halt last week when they staged a public protest against arms company BAE Systems’ presence at the fair.

Police were called to the event at Adam House after around a dozen protesters from the Edinburgh branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), in affiliation with the wider Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), entered the fair at 3pm.

The hour-long demonstration, at which students chanted slogans and brandished banners reading ‘BAE – Blatant Absence of Ethics’ and ‘BAE sells – Israel kills’, was focused on BAE’s commercial relationship with Israel.

Edinburgh SJP president Liam O’Hare, a second-year international relations student at Edinburgh, said: “When the police arrived we all decided to lie down and do a ‘die-in’ to represent all those kill ed by BAe’s weapons.”

University security staff emptied the hall during the 30-minute passive protest, refusing to allow anyone to enter the room. A spokesman for the University declined to comment on specific details of the incident, but said: “The University attaches great importance to freedom of speech, as long as points of view are put across in a safe and lawful way.”

The University of Edinburgh divested its shares in BAE Systems in 2005, under pressure from a vocal student campaign to do so. But Mr O’Hare claims the university continues to support BAE in other ways.

“They are being given a platform to persuade people to join their company, and we are opposed to them being given that platform,” he said.

“We are outraged by the extent of weapons being sold to Israel by BAE. We view BAE as complicit in the commission of illegal war crimes.”

A press release from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign claimed that “BAE Systems are known to have supplied Israel with parts for F-16 fighter aircraft, which have been used by the Israeli Army to turn Lebanese and Palestinian villages and towns into rubble.”

Mr O’Hare went on to tell The Journal that: “It’s still a constant issue. On the day of the protest, F-16s again bombed Gaza. We want the University of Edinburgh to divest from organisations involved in the illegal occupation of Palestine. Similarly to the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa, we want to put an end to apartheid in Palestine.”

BAE Systems, based in Hampshire, is the largest defence contractor in the world. Formed from the 1999 merger of British Aerospace (BAe) and Marconi Electronic Systems, the conglomerate employs over 100,000 people and reported a 2009 operating profit of £982 million.

Allegations of corruption have dogged the company in recent years, particularly surrounding the controversial Al-Yamamah ‘oil-for-arms’ deal with Saudi Arabia. BAE are alleged to have poured up to £60 million into a ‘slush fund’ used to bribe Saudi officials. An investigation by the Serious Fraud Office was ended in 2006, with the SFO citing “the need to safeguard national and international security.”

BAE could not be reached for comment.