A controversial vote to keep the students’ union’s policy relating to solidarity with Palestine and the boycott of Israeli products, will be examined by trustees as it may fall foul of government legislation.
Councillors voted by 44 to 19 in favour of retaining the policy ‘1714 In support of international law and human rights in Palestine.’ Policies lapse after a few years unless the Council votes to renew them.
The motion was originally passed in April 2015 and saw UEA join a national trend of universities supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The policy obligates the SU to sever ties with companies seen to be “facilitating the occupation in the Gaza strip”, including products served in the Union shops and bars. It means the SU supports “an academic boycott of Israeli universities”.
Students’ unions’ policies faced government investigation last spring, when the Charity Commission wrote to SUs on concerns over anti-Semitism.
The SU is a registered charity and so is legally bound to avoid participation in political campaigns which do not further objectives such as the promotion of education and welfare of students.
The Chair of the Trustee Board, India Edwards, said: “Whilst students in general and our Union Council in particular will rightly want to debate issues of political or global concern, the SU itself has to abide by Charity Law- and that means spending our money and time on things within our charitable objects that are focused on the student experience at UEA.
We’ve already had legal advice on Motion 1714 a few years ago, and we’ll make sure that in the coming days this is re-communicated to all concerned”.
The Trustee Board will meet on 20 March to review concerns over how to legally interpret the policy’s resolutions. Previously, the Union decided that several clauses would have to be interpreted or carried out in such a way as to avoid a clash with charity legislation.
Crucially, the policy includes a clause in support of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). The week sees universities annually host events addressing the legal discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens.
The week has been criticised as anti-Semitic, though organisers at UEA said they invite Jewish students to participate in the week.
Alex Dalton, a third-year Politics student, said he recalled feeling uneasy when he saw a poster advertising the week in the Hive in his first year.
— UEA HeadlightsComedy (@UEA_Headlights) January 25, 2018
Jayme Leah Cohen, a Biochemistry student and a committee member for Jewish Students, said she felt disappointed by the result of the vote.
“I love UEA but I can’t help but feel unsafe on campus because of this anti-Zionist sentiment that I believe is just a mask for anti-Semitism,” she said.
It is understood Jewish society only realised a couple of days before the vote the policy would be voted on, owing to not having an active Union Council representative. They said they felt like they were not given enough time to prepare to attend Council as they were not contacted directly regarding the vote.
Rafah Momo, speaking on behalf of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said she was happy with the result.
“It is incredible that we are in a university where the overwhelming support is aligned with making sure students are comfortable and do not feel prejudiced against,” she said.
“We stand with Jewish students and support each other, with Christian and Muslim students. We stand with Hindu and Buddhist students and students of another or no religion.
“What we stand against is the terror, racist, and violent regime that is Israel.
“We do not support the ‘mainstreaming’ of their violence.
“We are always open for dialogue and very open minded. “Come join us for Israel Apartheid Week and have a conversation.” The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), which represents Jewish students at UK and Irish universities, said the BDS policy is “a divisive and unconstructive policy”.
#ueaunioncouncil votes by 44 votes to 19 to RETAIN motion 1714, 'In Support of International Law and Human Rights in Palestine'. This will now continue to be UEA SU policy.
— UnionUEA (@UnionUEA) January 25, 2018
A UJS spokesperson told Concrete: “It is therefore disappointing that UEA has decided to renew their BDS policy instead of supporting dialogue towards a constructive resolution to the conflict.
“The policy harms Jewish students and prevents those on different sides of the conflict from coming together.”
This article was updated 30/01/2018; a previous version of this article stated Jewish society do not have an official Union Council representative. Jewish society do have a listed representative.