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UBC president tells Gaza protesters school must remain neutral

The president of the University of British Columbia has responded to a series of demands by pro-Palestinian protesters, telling them the university must remain neutral on the Gaza conflict. People take over a field with tents during a student encampment for Palestine at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns The president of the University of British Columbia has responded to a series of demands by pro-Palestinian protesters, telling them the university must remain neutral on the Gaza conflict. People take over a field with tents during a student encampment for Palestine at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 29, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns
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The president of the University of British Columbia has told pro-Palestinian protesters that the school must remain neutral on the Gaza conflict.

Benoit-Antoine Bacon says in response to demands by the organizers of a protest encampment on the Vancouver campus that professors and students hold a broad range of opinions and the university can't "presume to speak for everyone."

Bacon says if the university took a position, it would undermine the rights of people who hold different views to express themselves.

He says the university isn't engaging in "moral relativism," and it hopes for a ceasefire and a lasting peace in the Middle East.

A handwritten set of the protesters' demands shared by Bacon says they want UBC to "condemn and demand an end" to what they call "the genocide in Gaza."

Other demands include the university divesting from companies associated with Israel and its actions in Gaza, a boycott of Israeli institutions, a ban on the RCMP on campus, and an affirmation of "Palestinians' right to resist."

Bacon says that UBC is willing to engage on divestment, but its endowment fund does not directly own stocks in companies identified by the movement.

On the matter of a boycott, he says the university respects faculty members who want to engage in academic partnerships.

He says UBC has been "measured and restrained" on the issue of police at protests, and he wants to "better understand" the demand about affirming Palestinian rights.

Dozens of tents have been pitched at the university's MacInnes Field since April 29 when the protest encampment began.

It is among encampments at multiple universities across Canada and elsewhere protesting the actions of Israel in the Gaza conflict.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

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