Wadham College’s Student Union passed a controversial motion this week mandating the College to consider funding a scholarship for a student from the Palestinian territories.
The motion, proposed on Sunday, stated, “It is important that we show our solidarity with the Palestinians,” adding, “The UK’s friendly and largely uncritical relations with Israel are a factor in Israel’s continuing disregard for international law.”
Although the motion passed by 16 votes to 6, there was opposition from JCR members about the inclusion of political statements in the proposal.
Jacob Haddad, a first year Engineering, Economics and Management student at the college, criticised the political statements in the motion, and argued that “This should be about access to education”.
He labelled the reference to Britain’s foreign policy as “irrelevant” and said that the motion would “alienate students and make them feel they have to take this particular political view [since they are] part of the Student Union.”
Katherine Halls, a member of Oxford’s Palestinian Society, who proposed the motion, said, “Unfortunately politics do affect matters of education. The bombing of Gaza’s University, which has made this scholarship necessary, was given legitimacy by Western governments.”
Katherine Halls continued, “One Oxford educated individual going back to the Gazan community can make a real difference. If this can be done here at Wadham other colleges will realise that they can too.”
At the Wadham Student Union meeting, Max Goulding, a second year mathematician, said that the student body was “sick of another increase in levies”. He pointed out that every Wadham student already pays an £11.50 International Student Levy, along with a £6.50 contribution towards charities.
Goulding mentioned the university-wide Reach Oxford scholarship as an alternative, apolitical scholarship for students from developing countries.
He said, “I believe that this is a very politically motivated motion as there is already a scholarship that is available for Palestinian students.
“I do not see the need to create a separate scholarship that seems to be pro-Palestine when the conflict is a very complex issue.”
A similar motion was passed last week at St Hugh’s College. The proposal was initially for a scholarship for Palestinian students, but was amended to broaden the search to include those in other war zones.
“Some students were concerned that we were making too much of a political statement by focusing on Palestine alone; we would rather help someone than turn this into an issue,” said Iman Effendi, the student who proposed the motion.
Both the St Hugh’s and the Wadham proposals cited the Crisis Scholarship at St Edmund Hall as a successful precedent.
The Gazan airstrike served as the impetus for the motion at Teddy Hall last year. However due to the objections raised, the then JCR President Charlotte Seymour adapted the conditions of the scholarship so that it would be available to a student from “a political conflict zone” rather than from Gaza in particular.
Sky Herington, the student who proposed the motion, said that she was “very happy” that the motion passed and that there is currently a Gazan scholar at the college.
However Herington said that she was “initially disappointed” that the motion did not pass unamended for the scholarship to help Gazan victims alone.
She explained, “I feel that this cause is too often sidelined in the British press and politics.”
St Edmund Hall students currently each contribute £5 per term towards half of the Gazan scholar’s living fees while the other half is funded by Hoping, a charitable foundation for Palestinians.
At Keble, a student from Pakistan applied for an undergraduate degree through the Reach Oxford scheme and a motion was passed in Trinity Term in 2009 to help fund his studies.
The motion to impose a mandatory £6.20 levy was passed unanimously by those present. However there was some discontent among Keble students, since the JCR President Zain Talyarkhan had reportedly assured the committee that the levy would be optional.
Of 360 undergraduate students at Keble, 58 people were present at the meeting for the motion.
“At the time some people were quite annoyed that a small proportion of the JCR made a decision affecting everyone’s battels on a non-opt-out basis,” said Nick Pointer, a second year student at the College.
The Wadham motion also referred to the student occupation of the Clarendon Building in 2009, which followed Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s Islamic University in December 2008.
Among the protesters’ demands was the creation of scholarships for Palestinians. The Senior Proctor had agreed that endowments towards such scholarships would be “most welcome.”
The motion will be further discussed at the next Wadham Student Union meeting.
If members of the Wadham JCR and MCR decide to go ahead with the motion in its current form, the Student Union will then lobby the College to looking into to the tuition fees of the Gazan scholarship student.