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A group of academic staff at New Zealand’s largest university have expressed concern at the administration’s move to block a protest encampment that was planned to take place on campus calling for support for the rights of Palestinians.

This week, the University of Auckland warned that while it supported the right of students and staff to protest peacefully and legally, it would not support an overnight encampment due to health and safety concerns.

The university’s statement said advice from police had been taken into account, and the university would “work constructively” with the protesters to facilitate an alternative form of protest.

“This compromise enables students and staff who wish to express their views to do so in a peaceful and lawful manner, without introducing the significant risks that such encampments have brought to other university campuses,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, more than 100 people gathered at the university’s central city campus for the rally, with those taking part expressing a range of views toward violence between Israel and Palestinians and the war in Gaza.

Protest organisers Students for Justice in Palestine, said the demonstration was the initial event in a long-term campaign to advocate for Palestinian rights, in “support for justice and peace”, and invited any member of the university to take part, “regardless of background or affiliation”.

After the university’s statement against the planned encampment, the group changed the event to a campus rally, which they said would make it more accessible to a more diverse range of people.

Open letter of concern
However, now an open letter signed by 65 university staff and academics says they held deep concerns about the university’s stance toward the protest.

The institution’s reaction “mischaracterised” the focus of the protest, minimised the violence in Gaza, and had not acknowledged a call for the institution to “divest from any entities and corporations enabling Israel’s ongoing military violence against Palestinians in Gaza”, the letter said.

It condemned the university for not seeking advice about the planned protest from its own students and staff, and said the institution’s stance had implied the protesters would “introduce significant risks”.

One of the signatories, senior law lecturer Dylan Asafo, told RNZ the University of Auckland vice-chancellor had taken poor advice.

“The vice-chancellor is essentially blaming the violence and unrest that we’re seeing on the newest campuses [overseas] on staff and students who set up peaceful encampments there, rather than on university administrators and police forces who have broken up those peaceful encampments.”

The academics also want confirmation protesters won’t be punished by the university.

“We also urge you not to discipline or penalise students and staff who may choose to participate in peaceful protests and encampments in any way, and to engage with them in good faith,” the letter said.

The university has been approached for comment.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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