The National Union of Students (NUS) executive council has voted to boycott companies that aid Israel’s military and its settlement activities in the Gaza Strip. Proponents of the meaasure argued that Israel’s military is abusing human rights in Gaza and pointed to the deaths of 1,700 Palestinian civilians during recent bombings. Opponents criticised the tactic of boycotting, claiming that it is “indiscriminate” and will alienate Jewish students.
The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) motion called on the British government to “condemn Israel’s current assault on Gaza, cease aid and funding to Israel, impose an arms embargo against Israel and to demand a ceasefire”. It committed the NUS to boycotting, and to encouraging the boycotting of, companies that are “complicit in financing and aiding Israel’s military”, as well as any firms “identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuse or illegal settlement activity”. 23 members of the executive council voted for the policy, with 18 voting against and 1 abstaining.
Proponents of the policy argued that the Israeli army has “killed over 630 Palestinians, with over 80% of deaths being civilians” and claimed that the army has used illegal weapons. They argued that funding from Western countries “helps perpetuate Israel’s abuses” and that “appealing to [Israel’s] political establishment on a purely moral basis would be naïve.”
Chris Jarvis, Campaigns & Democracy Officer at the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS), said: “From a personal perspective, I welcome this policy and I’m glad the NUS passed it. Economic boycotts have been effective in the past, and this policy sends an important message that British students will not stand by and watch as Palestinian students and civilians are bombed indiscriminately.
“This policy puts pressure on the Israeli military and political establishment to stop its assault on the people of Gaza and cease its illegal settlement activity, but does not target Israeli civilians. Israel’s military should stop bombing Palestinian civilians and its government should commit to a ceasefire”.
The UUEAS is already committed to “condemning the use of disproportionate force by Israel against Palestinians” and to “recognizing the right of Palestine to function as a sovereign state” after the student union’s decision-making council passed a policy on the issue in December 2012. The UUEAS is not committed to boycotting companies that aid the Israeli military.
The NUS policy was condemned by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), who said: “The motion supports the BDS movement, a movement whose tactics are inherently indiscriminate and whose boundaries are undefined. Whatever your politics on the conflict, when there is a strong campaign with ill-defined boundaries, there is no way to monitor the areas and people you will end up targeting.
“For all the insistence from campaigners who argue ‘BDS doesn’t target individuals’ – time and time again this is proven not to be the case. Even today at the vote, Jewish students reported to UJS that they felt intimidated and bullied by the antagonistic atmosphere. NUS executive council has passed a policy that will only divide student groups, undermine interfaith relations, and suffocate progressive voices for peace on both sides”.
An NUS spokesperson said: “The motion passed today by our national executive council commits us to ensuring that, as far as is practical, NUS does not employ or work with companies identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity, and to actively work to cut ties with those that do.
“The motion also asks NUS to encourage our autonomous member students’ unions to boycott companies and corporations complicit in financing and aiding Israel’s military. NUS also reaffirmed our commitment to raising awareness of and combating all forms of racism including but not limited to, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, that may and have occurred in response to recent events in Israel and Palestine. The national executive committee also reiterated NUS’s support for a two-state solution.
“We are committed to creating an atmosphere in which robust debates can take place without creating a climate of fear or intimidation”.