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South East Technological University campus in Waterford. SETU
South East TU

College to condemn Gaza war, but stops short of cutting ties with firms profiting from conflict

SETU management met with a group of staff to discuss an appeal to take a stance on the war in the Middle East today.

LAST UPDATE | 30 May

THE SOUTH EAST Technological University is set to release a statement condemning the conflict in the Middle East, but will stop short of carrying out a review of links between the college and any companies that may be complicit with or profit from the war itself.

It has also held off on supporting a call from some lecturers to sever ties with US open source software firm Red Hat over the work the company carries out for the Israeli government and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

SETU president Veronica Campbell and its chair Patrick Prendergast met with a group of staff from the college’s campuses across the region today in Waterford.

Outrage had been voiced by a group of staff and students who had formed a Gather for Palestine group at the university, which is an amalgamation of the former institute of technologies in Carlow and Waterford.

The five points of their letter to SETU management demanding changes refer to

  • calls for SETU to publicly express “abhorrence at the events of October 7″, when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, along with the subsequent taking and retention of hostages
  • a similar condemnation of the “subsequent seven-month onslaught by Israel” seen since in Gaza
  • a call for an immediate ceasefire; the release of all hostages in Gaza, and of Palestinians unlawfully detained in Israeli jails; and a call for Israel’s adherence to international and humanitarian law.
  • a commitment that SETU will “sever its links with Red Hat” and desist from taking any further sponsorship from this company
  • a public commitment to review any links that SETU may have with other companies that are “”complicit with, or profit from, the war in Gaza or the Israeli occupation more generally. In the event that such links exist, the group calls for these institutions to be boycotted.

Mark Graham, a lecturer at SETU and a member of Gather For Palestine, said the group today received a “commitment to address” the first three of the five demands during the meeting.

He told The Journal that management had said that “further discussion and consideration” were needed around on its ties with Red Hat and links to companies that may profit from the war.

“A public statement [condemning the war] is a good thing because that’s part of what was asked for,” he said, but cautioned that that there was “no timeline” yet on the promise. SETU said it would issue the statement in “due course” in a separate statement.

“So broadly, something will be said but will there be action taken? That’s not clear,” Graham said.

According to the SETU press office, management and the campaigners had reached “consensus on certain aspects of the first three points of the letter” but declined to comment on the latter two demands.

“SETU had a collegiate meeting with staff today on the matters raised in their recent letter concerning the conflict in Gaza,” it said.

“There is consensus on certain aspects of the first three points of the letter with a statement to be issued by the University in due course. The University has no comment to make in relation to specific partnerships with industry.”

Graham said there was an issue for staff and students at the college as it sets out a strategic policy of “acting ethically” and being a “leader in advancing equality”, adding:

“Is this what SETU says it does or what it actually does.”

Sanctuary programme

The lecturers, who have been protesting weekly at its Waterford campus, also want management to call for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages in Gaza and of Palestinians unlawfully detained in Israeli jails, along with the condemnation of the “targeting of educational infrastructure and the murder” of university staff and students.

Graham earlier also criticised the college maintaining its sponsorship links with Red Hat and Teva while at the same time offering a ‘sanctuary programme’ for Palestinian students who have “had their homes, universities, lives and families destroyed”, to be able to come to SETU to complete their studies.

“The possibility of such a student being given sanctuary and subsequently being part of an event or placement with a company whose counterparts are complicit in the destruction of their life is unthinkable,” Graham said.

Pharma ties

According to staff and students who signed the letter, the proposed review of ties should include Teva, an Israeli-based global pharmaceutical company with a plant in Waterford. Teva is listed by The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) National Committee (BNC) as one of their targets but also has a partnership with SETU.

Red Hat, which was taken over by software giant IBM in 2018, is a multinational with offices in Waterford for the past decade, along with having a presence in Dublin and Cork.

The company has been coy about how many people it employs across its Irish operations, but a recent jobs announcement saw 800 jobs declared for its workforce here. Its Waterford office has an emphasis on engineering roles.

In a letter sent to the governing authority of SETU in recent days, seen by The Journal, the staff said they were concerned that the college is partnered with a company that has been “directly involved in supporting, enhancing and profiting from the Israeli military apparatus”, particularly as that the IDF has been charged with committing war crimes by the International Court of Justice.

Staff further pointed to remarks by a US-based senior designer for Red Hat who called Israel’s Ministry of Defence “the customer that everyone wanted”, just weeks before the war.

“While Red Hat’s release of open source software has been a positive force in the tech industry, the company has been directly involved in supporting, enhancing and profiting from the Israeli military apparatus, an apparatus charged with committing war crimes,” the letter said. 

“In light of its complicity in plausible genocide, some SETU staff have expressed deep concern that Red Hat sponsored SETU’s 2024 Women in Technology event and that the company’s distinctive global branding forms part of the university’s promotional material,” it added.

On the company’s website, it lists as a ‘success story’ its work with the Israeli Defense Forces’ Center of Computing and Information Systems (known as Mamram). 

Red Hat includes a quote from an unnamed Lieutenant Colonel from the Mamram Unit of the IFD saying that Red Hat’s system has helped “save our organisation time and money, all while better protecting the citizens of our country”. 

Michelle Byrne of Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign South East (IPSC SE) said a clear and public statement from SETU management was needed in regard to their “links with companies profiting from the death and displacement of Palestinian people”.

In response to questions about whether it will commit to a review as sought by the staff, a spokesperson for SETU said it will “discuss the matter” with the staff at today’s meeting. 

Protests have taken place across Irish colleges against the invasion of Gaza, with Trinity College Dublin agreeing to divest itself from Israeli companies operating in Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Red Hat and Teva did not respond in time for publication.

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