Sir Michael Palin awarded honorary Oxford degree amid Gaza protest

By Ethan GudgeBBC News

Oxford University Images / John Cairns Michael Palin in traditional gownsOxford University Images / John Cairns

Sir Michael Palin attended Oxford in his younger days

Comedy legend Sir Michael Palin has been awarded an honorary degree from the University of Oxford in a ceremony that was affected by a nearby pro-Palestinian protest.

Known for a career spanning almost 60 years, Sir Michael was one of six people rewarded at the university’s Encaenia ceremony.

As part of the centuries-old service, a procession made up of university dignitaries and honorary degree recipients travelled through the city.

But an Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P) encampment around the Radcliffe Camera meant it took a different route to previous years.

Protesters with palestinian flags outside the radcliffe camera

Dozens of people took part in the protest

In past years, the procession has walked through Radcliffe Square and the Bodleian Old Quad on its way to the Sheldonian Theatre.

The university said this year it had taken an established alternative route that had been used in the past, but was a “different route to that of most previous years”.

Protester hiding face holding pro-Gaza banner

Protesters held banners with messages in support of Gaza

Dozens of protesters gathered around the grass outside of the Radcliffe Camera displaying signs opposing the university’s alleged links to Israel.

OA4P are demanding that the university disclose and divest any financial interests in Israel, as well as calling on it to rebuild educational institutions in Gaza that have been affected by the current conflict.

Policeman and protesters oustide radcliffe camera

There was a large police presence in the area

On 6 May, protest camps were set up outside the Museum of Natural History in Oxford and in Cambridge.

In a previous statement, The University of Oxford said it respects its students’ and staff members’ “right to freedom of expression in the form of peaceful protests”.

It has also previously expressed “profound sympathy for those suffering in Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank”.

Oxford University Images / John Cairns Honorary degree recipientsOxford University Images / John Cairns

There were six recipients of the honorary degrees

The Encaenia ceremony was overseen by Oxford University chancellor Lord Patten, and was his last before leaving the position at the end of the academic year.

Sir Michael Palin read modern history at Brasenose College, Oxford before becoming one of the founding members of Monty Python – seen by many as one of the most revered comedy troupes in modern cultural history.

Following the success of Python, Sir Michael went on to star in Hollywood films and present a long list of travelogue series for the BBC.

Getty Images Sir Michael made his name with Monty Python, alongside Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam (L-R)Getty Images

Sir Michael made his name with Monty Python, alongside Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam (L-R)

Alongside Sir Michael, British-Indian-American musician Anoushka Shankar and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the first African, and woman, to ever hold the position of director general of the WTO, were also awarded.

Other recipients of the honorary degrees were British engineer and entrepreneur Warren East, computer scientist and artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Sir Demis Hassabis, and Canadian cardiologist and epidemiologist Prof Salim Yusuf.

Prof Irene Tracey, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said: “From AI, engineering and economics, to music, medicine and the world of television and travel writing, our honorands have impacted our world in so many different ways, and we are thrilled to welcome them to Oxford.”

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