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British Student Union Backs BDS, But Support Is Not Pervasive

Netanyahu condemns group, equates Israel boycott to support of ISIS

Jas Chana
June 04, 2015

Anti-Israel sentiments have spiked across university campuses in America to such an extent that this weekend a billionaire has decided to throw an emergency conference to combat them. However, it would seem that the situation across the pond is even more alarming.

On Tuesday, Britain’s National Union of Students’ National Executive Council (NUS-NEC), an organizing body that connects student unions at individual universities across the UK, passed a motion to officially affiliate with the BDS movement. The NUS sent me a copy of the motion, titled “Solidarity with Palestine: Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions,” which was submitted by the student union of the School of Oriental and African Studies, a branch of the University of London. The motion argues, among other things:

That the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine, Israel’s multitude of human rights and international law violations, its flagrancy and unaccountability to the international community is abhorrent and should be condemned.

That the tactic of global boycotts effectively assisted the successful struggle against South African Apartheid.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, members of the NUS’s Executive Council voted on the motion in a “secret ballot,” with 19 voting for, 15 against, and 1 choosing to abstain. This is actually the second time in the space of a year that the NUS has chosen to endorse BDS. Haaretz reported that a similar type of vote took place during the Gaza war last summer.

Naturally, the news has sparked outrage in Israel. RT reports that Netanyahu’s response was to attack the NUS for its apparent hypocrisy. In a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Robert Nicholson, the Israeli Prime Minister said, “[The NUS] boycott Israel but they refuse to boycott ISIS. That tells you everything you want to know about the BDS movement. They condemn Israel and do not condemn ISIS; they condemn themselves.”

Netanyahu was referring to a vote held last September in which a motion proposed by a Kurdish student urging the NUS “to condemn the Islamic State,” and to “encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers,” was opposed on the grounds that the “condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia,” reports The Huffington Post.

According to Haaretz, the news of the BDS vote caused such a stir in Israel that it opened the news show on Channel Two. However, they quoted a Jewish student involved in the vote who suggests that the reaction is overblown: “They are making a much bigger fuss of this in Israel than anyone is in Britain.”

In fact, NUS’s new policy was passed by a small group of 19 student leaders; thus, the motion should not be seen as representative of the views of British students as a whole. Yesterday, Simon Johnson, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said “that of the hundreds of academic institutions in the UK, barely more than a dozen have any form of BDS policy. Those that do are quickly overturned or limited, and over 90% of Jewish students are at universities with neutral or positive policies regarding Israel, where many also have active ties with Israeli colleagues and companies.”

And in an email, Maggie Suissa, the UJS Campaigns Director, commented that “we should recognize that this NUS-NEC motion is largely symbolic as its remit doesn’t mandate the student unions at different universities to follow it.” She continued: “Their [BDS supporters] actions and language, regularly prove themselves as toxic forces on our campus and in our society.”

This toxicity is arguably spread by reactions to these BDS supporters that inflate their importance, which allows the vote, Haaretz reported, to be “hailed as a major victory for the BDS movement.”

Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.