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.”

A Palestinian boy rides his bicycle past Israeli soldiers during a protest in Hebron

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”.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Irrelevant of my opinion on the matter this seems like a fairly delusional statement…

    “This policy puts pressure on the Israeli military and political establishment…”

    If our union genuinely believes that anyone outside UEA will take any notice of or care at all about a boycott, especially the Israelis then they need help.

    I’d also suggest that if they invested more of their money and time into fixing issues within the university that it might be a better place to study rather than arguing much wider issues which have a complete irrelevance to life at UEA. Our union always seems to want to boycott something, seemingly as some sort of publicity stunt to make sure we all know they’re still there when, realistically we’d all much rather just get on with buying the confectionary we want, the newspapers we want and listening to the music we want whilst you renovate the union building, ensure the shop actually has stock of things (literally the most badly stock managed shop I’ve ever come across), invest in sports and sports clubs and offer more support to students.

  2. Daniel, the student officers were only following a policy set by union council,as per their jobs and the constitution of the union

    • I’m guessing this is a student officer supporting the statement then. Who is the ‘students union’ supposed to represent? This statement in my opinion goes against the Jewish students on campus. I would like to know which officers it is that actually support this policy and which don’t. Frankly this is going to achieve nothing but marginalise students on our campus, and as far as I’m aware union council which passes this policy isn’t exactly representative. I mean, I don’t know who is on their to represent me, what they stand for and what even happens in council. The wrong people have been running our union for too long and as far as I’m aware the more sensible people we get in rather than the same old Green Party ‘activists’ who do nothing more than use our students union resources to support every possible demo that won’t change students lives. I never asked our students union to affiliate to people’s assembly, yet we have, I never wanted our union to support such a marginalising policy yet they have. If you have strong beliefs that’s great, but all I want is a students union that works for the students. I don’t want our officers to be going to demos all the time shouting about austerity and whatever else they want to whilst we have issues on our own campus which need addressing.

  3. As a Jewish student I personally feel that our student officers can no longer support myself or my Jewish peers as they clearly do not care about the opinions of people directly effected by this and do not understand what it is like to be a Jewish student and to hear that your union supports this without knowing that your union had taken such steps. I also ask Elliot as the news editor, will all your articles be written in a bias manner this year to fit your agenda? I think uea students should boycott concrete until we have somebody impartial rather than someone so political who will clearly want their own spin on articles with such sensitivity.

      • Hi Geri,
        Thanks for offering the opportunity to let me offer my opinions on the running of concrete. I would email you but I would rather do it here as I feel people should be able to see the running of the newspaper that is written for them every couple of weeks.

        I understand that having someone write the news section of the newspaper who isn’t political is going to be near impossible. I do however feel having someone who is as close to an anarchist as you could have who makes a mockery of student representation at a national level is concerning. Note this article gives no opinions against this motion, I’m guessing not all the officers will agree on this and there will be students who disagree as they will not be in favour of marginalising students. Yet we get a quote from one person in support who is supposed to represent students but instead represents the small group of people who share his views and other students don’t seem to matter all that much.

        I just felt that maybe the union newspaper which shouldn’t be affiliated to any political agenda should be neutral especially on issues such as BDS which to be honest makes me feel like I’m not welcome on campus and in the union when they so happily support it.

        Kind regards

        Daniel Cohen.

        • Hello Daniel,

          Concrete as a publication does not have an opinion on anything. While our writers and editors, as individuals, of course have their own views, our commitment to responsible journalism means that these are left out of news articles. As such, our news editors’ personal views do not preclude their ability to provide balanced coverage, and I believe that this article is proof of that. Please also note that all articles are approved by a senior editor before publication.

          In this particular instance, our covering the NUS BDS motion does not indicate that we support it or that we condemn it; but as a student newspaper, it would be wrong of us not to inform our readers of it. Opinions quoted belong to those they are attributed to (not to Concrete), and please note that the article includes a lengthy response to the motion from the Union of Jewish Students.

          Many thanks for your feedback,

          Geri

        • Hi Daniel

          Geri’s kind of said everything I would have said, but I would also add that being an anarchist or a communist doesn’t disqualify anyone from being a good journalist or a news editor, just as being a Labour Party member or a conservative doesn’t disqualify anyone from being a good journalist or news editor. I’ve never tried to hide my personal views – as you point out I’ve run in student elections openly expressing them. But however strongly I believe in a point of view I also believe that journalism requires balance and context, and I always try to make sure my articles provide that.

          – Elliot

          (Views are my own, not Concrete’s)

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