Pro-Palestine protesters plot graduation disruption at Cambridge University

Pro-Palestine protest camps have appeared  on several campuses including Cambridge, where its vice-president has refused to remove them
Pro-Palestine protest camps have appeared on several campuses including Cambridge, where its vice-president has refused to remove it in commitment to free speech - ZUMA PRESS INC/ALAMY LIVE NEWS

Pro-Palestine groups are plotting to disrupt this week’s graduation ceremonies at the University of Cambridge, The Telegraph understands.

Palestine Action, a pro-Palestine protest movement, is understood to be targeting a series of events for undergraduates and masters degree holders at the university in the coming days.

Most Cambridge students graduating this year are set to receive their degrees in the coming days, meaning the protests could cause widespread disruption across the university.

The group told The Telegraph in a statement that it would “continue to apply necessary pressure to end complicity in the Gaza genocide”.

It comes just days after the same group splattered Cambridge’s Senate House building with red paint.

Senate House in Cambridge was the subject of Pro-Palestine protests
Senate House in Cambridge was the subject of Pro-Palestine protests - JANE WOODWARD/PA

Other pro-Palestine groups are also plotting action.

A source from one protest group said they were keen to illustrate their claims that Prof Deborah Prentice, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, has “blood on her hands” over the conflict in the Middle East. Pro-Palestine protesters have previously criticised her comments on the war as “passive”.

Palestine Action claimed responsibility for the attack on Senate House last Saturday, which saw the 300-year-old building, used to host Cambridge graduation ceremonies, drenched in paint.

The group is not directly linked to the university, though it said the attack on Senate House was done with the help of Cambridge students.

The choice of “blood-red paint” was used to reflect the “Palestinian bloodshed, which soaks the university’s financial records, research output, and historical legacy”.

The group has called for the 800-year-old institution to cut ties with companies linked to Israel.

Workers were seen jet-washing the paint off the building on Tuesday afternoon.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary are also understood to be investigating whether the attack on Senate House amounted to criminal damage.

The university said in a statement on Saturday: “We strongly condemn this act of vandalism.”

Palestine Action has also launched a wave of assaults on banks across the UK in recent weeks demanding divestment from “Israel’s weapons trade and fossil fuels”.

Emails sent out to Cambridge students by university officials on Tuesday, seen by The Telegraph, indicate the university is bracing for potential further disruption.

Cambridge students set to graduate have been informed that they will be awarded their degrees “in absentia” to ensure they receive them even if the official ceremonies are thwarted by protesters.

The measure, which will see degrees ratified en masse each morning, is usually reserved for students who are unable to attend their graduation ceremony in person.

The university said the Latin wording of the afternoon graduation ceremonies would be amended slightly to reflect this.

It could mark the second year in a row of graduation disruption at the university, following last summer’s marking boycott.

The pay dispute between the University and College Union and employers at 145 institutions left tens of thousands of university students in limbo in 2023.

Cambridge was among the worst-affected universities, with half of final-year undergraduates impacted after graduation ceremonies were cancelled.

The latest action comes amid mounting political activism across British campuses, partially in response to the Israel-Gaza war.

More than a dozen encampments are currently in place across UK campuses, including at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol and University College London.

Oxford came under fire from campaigners on Tuesday after a metal fence was erected around a student encampment protesting against the war in Gaza.

Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P), a student-led group, described the action as a “blatant attempt to intimidate and shut down peaceful protest” and a “concerning act of suppression”.

The university said in a statement that it had fenced off the area in preparation for returning it to public use.

Pro-Palestine protesters previously disrupted an interview between Prof Prentice in January. A student protester holding a Palestine flag accused the university of being “complicit in Israel’s atrocity”, and shouted at the university chief: “Are you not ashamed of your silence?”

Around 200 protesters also marched from the pro-Palestine encampment at Cambridge’s King’s College last month to deliver their demands over the Israel-Gaza war to university officials, including Prof Prentice.

Prof Prentice has previously said the encampment on the lawn of King’s College will be allowed to remain because the university was “fully committed to freedom of speech within the law, and the right to protest”.

We will not tolerate anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or any other form of racial or religious hatred in our community,” she said in a statement last month. “The university has set out guidance around expectations to the protesters, and the protesters have issued community guidance, which describes a peaceful protest.”

Palestine Action said in a statement on Tuesday: “We can neither confirm nor deny if we will disrupt the graduation ceremonies. For context, all universities in Gaza have been damaged, most of them are completely destroyed.

“The University of Cambridge is facilitating the ongoing destruction and genocide in Gaza, which is incomparable to paint on the Senate Hall. Palestine Action will continue to apply necessary pressure to end complicity in the Gaza genocide.”

A Cambridge University spokesman said: “We look forward to our students graduating in the Senate House this week. There are always contingency plans in place to manage any form of disruption in ways that will ensure students graduate in a manner that is fitting of the occasion.”