UCD’s stance on Gaza: Private Correspondence Shows No Plans to Demand A Ceasefire

Image Credit: Ilaria Riccio

Co-Editors Tessa Ndjonkou and Ilaria Riccio investigate UCD’s current stance on Gaza amid calls to demand an immediate ceasefire

As the crisis in Gaza continues to unfold and term advances, universities across Ireland have been called in for a reckoning. Earlier this month, The University Of Galway’s president, Prof. Ciarán hÓgartaigh vowed to review the institution’s current ties with Israel. This decision followed significant actions from both students and staff mobilised in support of Palestinian solidarity through the Palestinian Solidarity Society, the University of Galway Students’ Union and their support of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign  (IPSC). The International Court of Justice’s understanding that Israel must “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts” coming within the scope of the Genocide Convention promted the college’s President to say: “we join in the calls for an immediate, permanent ceasefire and for the release of hostages, and for justice, accountability and equal protection of human rights”. 

In December 2023, TCDSU vowed to sever its ties to Domino’s Pizza in accordance with the tenets drafted by the BDS movement. Indeed, the union claimed that the company was “profiting from the genocide of the Palestinian people”. While strong strides are being taken by universities outside of Belfield, the question of the college’s next steps could not be murkier. 

While strong strides are being taken by universities outside of Belfield, the question of the college’s next steps could not be murkier.

UCD’s response to the events and the college’s refusal to sever all existing ties with Israeli institutions has been a focal point of the coverage for The University Observer. The stance was first announced by an email addressed to the student body last November, where President Orla Feely claimed that there are no active academic relations between UCD and Israeli universities. The University Observer’s latest cover story revealed this to be false and identified ten ongoing research collaborations between UCD and Israeli institutions, with some running until 2028. The amount of funding UCD was given to participate in these collaborative projects amounts to over €4 million euros according to the CORDIS network. 

Since its release, three more ongoing research collaborations between UCD and Israel have been  revealed, which adds over €2.3 million euro to the previously reported sum of  €4.8 million euro. EU funding allocated to UCD to carry out research in collaboration with Israel now amounts to over €7.1 million euros. 

In email correspondence seen by The University Observer, President Orla Feely retracted her previous statement that no existing ties between UCD and Israeli institutions were identifiable: “It has now come to my attention that our record of international partners on EU research grants was incomplete and I have now received details of twelve such partnerships involving UCD and institutions in Israel.” The University Observer makes note of the fact that the reopening of this investigation and the discovery of new ties was made a week after the publication of its latest cover story.

In communications seen by The University Observer, President Orla Feely retracted her previous statement that no existing ties between UCD and Israeli institutions were identifiable.

Although UCD and Israeli institutions are not the only universities involved in these researches, the fact that most of these projects are due to end in 2028 at the latest suggests that there are no intentions to cut research ties with Israeli universities just yet. This contrasts with the continuous calls for an academic boycott by both staff and students since the outset of the ongoing genocide. 

In an email correspondence dated from November 20th 2023, UCD President Professor Orla Feely, reiterated her position that she will not be calling for a ceasefire. The email, addressed to select members of UCD staff reads: “ [...] You requested that I call for an immediate ceasefire. My email earlier today to staff and students makes it clear why I will not be doing this”. 

She reiterated this statement on December 21st as a response to the UCDSU Petition for Palestinian solidarity, saying: “I fully understand your strength of feeling [...], but as stated in my previous email, it is not my policy to express positions on behalf of UCD in respect of geopolitical issues”. 


The revelations made by The University Observer and President Orla Feely’s follow-up statements have fuelled pro-Palestine sentiments on campus, alongside more vigorous calls to sever existing relations with Israeli institutions. Particularly scrutinised was the inauguration event for the 2024 edition of the Dalkey Book Festival, which US Senator Bernie Sanders opened as a guest by presenting his latest book, It’s Okay To Be Mad About Capitalism. The event was held in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall from approximately 7pm to 8pm and was moderated by Irish economist David McWilliams. 

Before the conference began, protestors from UCD BDS, Action for Palestine and DCU BDS led by UCDSU President Martha Ní Riada marched onto the venue to peacefully protest the US Senators lacklustre stance on the ongoing crisis in Gaza and UCD’s facilitation of the event. Approximately two dozen protestors stood outside of O’Reilly Hall throughout Senator Sanders’ allocution and continued to protest even after the event came to a halt an hour after. 

Speaking to The University Observer, UCDSU President Ní Riada said: “We wanted to peacefully protest this event for what it is but we wanted to call out the fact that it is being held in UCD especially after so many universities in Palestine have been torn to the ground and students are unable to study or live normally”. 

When asked about whether any acknowledgement of the controversy would be acknowledged by President Orla Feely, she said: “[Her] acknowledgment is not something we are looking for because it’s unlikely to happen. However, freedom of speech is being used as a crutch to allow such events to take place on campus, which does not mean we can’t protest them. Once again, the university is profiting off zionism which is not something we like to see being normalised”. 

The event initially carried out without any disturbance and garda presence on site reassured attendees that no escalation was anticipated. However, shortly into Bernie Sanders’ allocution, a man (later identified as a UCD PhD researcher) stood up and heckled him. His intervention was met with jeers from the crowd and upon his second interference with the event, he was forcefully removed from the premises by security. Speaking to The University Observer, he explained the motive behind his outburst: “I was just trying to communicate my disappointment in him [Bernie Sanders]. I campaigned for him in 2016 and in 2020. I flew out and canvassed door to door to support his campaign in Iowa”. UCD PhD researcher in Climate Change, Dylan Murphy continued on to say: “He seems unable to criticise anything Joe Biden does anymore which makes me really despondent. We’re actively following in Bernie’s footsteps as students and he’s not coming with us”.

Shortly into Bernie Sanders’ allocution, a man (later identified as a UCD PhD researcher) stood up and heckled him. His intervention was met with jeers from the crowd and upon his second interference with the event, he was forcefully removed from the premises by security.

Dylan Murphy’s empathic outburst was not an isolated incident during this event which became even more heated when the question of Israel and Palestine was brought forward. 

The moderator for the event, David McWilliams presented the context in which Senator Sanders was arriving into: “There is a pretty wide consensus in Europe that what is going on in Gaza currently, is a genocide, which begs the question of why [Joe] Biden is doing what he’s doing.”

The US Senator replied saying he felt “queasy” about using the term genocide to refer to the events unfolding in Gaza and Rafah. He continued on to say: “Israel has the right to defend itself but not to carry out a war against the whole Palestinian population who is innocent. There is no magical solution [for this humanitarian crisis]. Anyone who says so, is kidding themselves”. 

His answer prompted strong reactions from Action for Palestine activists: “Liar, liar - you’re a zionist and you’re a genocide denier!” and “Resistance is an obligation, in the face of occupation!” were both exclamations targeted towards the US Senator to which he answered: “Good slogan, but slogans are not solutions”. 

'Liar, liar - you’re a zionist and you’re a genocide denier!' and “Resistance is an obligation, in the face of occupation!' were both exclamations targeted towards the US Senator to which he answered: 'Good slogan, but slogans are not solutions'. 

Speaking to The University Observer, one of the protesters said: “For me, as a Palestinian, I had to disrupt [the event] because what was being said inside the room were lies fuelled by Israeli propaganda”. She continued on to say: “The attendees’ response to Bernie Sanders’ saying Israel has a right to defend itself shows how privileged they are. They claim to be pro-Palestine until we actually stand up and fight back. This is the double standard we hoped to expose by speaking out. We are tired of Palestinians having to be the ‘perfect’ victims”. 

While the duo was not expelled from O’Reilly Hall, they were threatened with physical intimidation by several members in attendance. 

The event ended approximately forty minutes ahead of schedule and saw the US senator smoothly evacuated off of the premises. 

The tension in the aftermath of Bernie Sanders’ presence was palpable the following week. On Wednesday February 21st, UCDSU and UCD BDS announced a flash protest for the Friday of the same week. The short notice of the event may have impacted the turnout, which was considerably lower compared to previous Palestinian solidarity rallies held on the Belfield campus. Nevertheless, this protest was perhaps the most raucous demonstration yet. 

New chants were added to the usual repertoire, including “Cut the ties, stop the lies” and “We will not choose silence in the face of violence”. Another one targeted President Orla Feely directly: “Orla Feely shame on you!” The location of the protest was also strategic, as the crowd gathered in front of the Tierney Building, where the UCD President’s office is located. 

The first speaker was USI Vice-President Zaid Albarghouti, who reiterated the importance of community and grassroot organising: “As students and academics we need to realise that it took three days for the first university to be targeted by the IDF. We as students need to stand in solidarity with those who have lost the right to education.”

These sentiments were echoed by PhD researcher Jack McNicholl, who then proceeded to call out UCD’s ties with Technion University - Technological Institute of Israel: “[Technion University] has close cooperation with a company, ‘Elbit Systems’ - one of Israel’s many weapons manufacturers. ‘Elbit’ proclaims itself that it provides up to 85% of Israel’s drone supplies. [...] So, if Technion and their researchers want to research how to commit genocide, how to commit murder, how to commit oppression, they should do it alone, without UCD’s researchers standing by them.” 

A member of Trinity College Dublin’s BDS group also addressed the crowd, condemning the “attempts to normalise the state of Israel.” She continued, “We should boycott Israel, boycott Israeli goods, sanction Israel, expel the Israeli ambassador from this country immediately. [...] And all universities should cut their ties with Israeli institutions, because the type of research is being used to commit genocide against the Palestinian people, and also being used to erase Palestinian history.” 

This final point was also picked up by a Palestinian student at TCD, who was also the final speaker of the event, who powerfully stated: “Palestinian resistance will live on, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong.” 

With the civilian death toll in Gaza reaching almost 30 thousand, for many staff and students silence continues to be synonymous with complicity. The repeated refusal to cut ties with Israeli institutions by Prof. Orla Feely contrasts with the lack of functioning universities in Gaza. In the midst of a genocide, knowledge is power, and this power appears to not be utilised correctly.