A motion to align Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement was passed at Student Council yesterday, EUSA has announced, creating a mandate for the Association to cut ties with an array of Israeli products, companies, and institutions in protest of the occupation of Palestine.
The motion, passed by student body attendees with 249 votes for, 153 votes against, and 22 abstentions, would require EUSA to adopt the main provisions of BDS and ally itself with the broader international campaign. It mandates the Students Association eliminate from its venues any products made by companies with operations in the occupied territories, and “target products, companies and institutions” it says are implicated in the violation of Palestinian rights.
It also requires EUSA to give public support to other branches of the campaign, such as the academic boycott against Israeli higher learning institutions, and to put a public statement on its website announcing its support. EUSA would additionally be tasked with lobbying the University of Edinburgh itself to commit to the campaign.
Proposed by the EUSA Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) liberation group and the Edinburgh branch of Students for Justice in Palestine SJP, the motion attracted heated opinion on both sides, and was fiercely contested by members of the Edinburgh University Jewish Society. SJP had mobilised a strong force to attend the council meeting, and the Jewish Society and Jewish Chaplaincy brought voters of their own, making turnout to the council higher than it has been all year.
Proponents said that the motion was a peaceful means to target institutions complicit in human rights abuses in the West Bank. Opponents said the passing the motion would alienate students from Israel and lead to anti-Semitism on campus.
Various speeches made before the final vote on Thursday captured the passions held by those for and against.
Arguing for the motion, the president of the Edinburgh branch of Students for Justice in Palestine said students had a moral imperative to support Palestinian rights and that the motion would ensure that.
“It’s critical that we as citizens of the West to do what we can to help Palestinians,” he told the audience. He maintained the motion was focused on ending the occupation, restoring human rights and securing a right of return for Palestinians displaced during the creation of the Israeli state.
The speaker, a Palestinian student who requested anonymity due to safety concerns back home, drew on personal experiences to underscore the motion’s importance.
“My home in Palestine is full of illegal settlements,” he told the audience, adding that his family and fellow village members were forced into inhuman working conditions as a result of Israeli encroachment. “To justify these acts is to justify the acts of all other oppressive regimes throughout history.”
But opponents of the motion said that its passage would negatively impact Jewish students and students from Israel. In a speech against, Brianna Sommer, president of the Edinburgh Jewish Society, said that the effects of the motion would create deep divisions on campus.
“I stand against boycotting and the perpetual marginalisation, alienation, and hostility that ensues from this motion,” Sommer said. “I will not let the students that I represent suffer from deep divisions on campus that have presented themselves elsewhere.”
Sommer spoke passionately about a harsh climate already faced on campus by Jewish students and said the motion would exacerbate it.
“It is undeniable that there has been a rise in anti-Semitism on UK campuses,” she said. “Although the proposers of this motion may have the best intentions, BDS creates an atmosphere that can foster anti-Semitism, because as I’ve said, it is always Jewish students who are left to face the backlash.”
With its passage at Student Council, the motion now heads into a complex process that will see parts of it implemented immediately, such as the public statements from EUSA, and others put to approval in the final Trustee meeting on May 25, a source within EUSA told The Student.
Reporting contributed by Olivia R. Nolan.
This is a developing news story. More to follow.
Image: Scott Gunn