Britain’s student union votes to boycott Israel

Britain’s student union votes to boycott Israel

‘Justice for Palestine’ motion passes 19-12; Foreign Ministry notes union’s anti-Israel past, says motion has little practical effect; UK gov’t slams boycott efforts

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Britain's National Union of Students logo
Britain's National Union of Students logo

The UK’s National Union of Students passed a motion Tuesday to join worldwide efforts to boycott Israel over what it called Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. The motion explicitly aligns the union with the Palestinian-instigated Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The NUC’s Executive Council passed motion 518, dubbed “Justice for Palestine,” with 19 members voting in favor, 12 against and three abstaining.

The motion also called on the British Parliament to stop arms sales to Israel.

The NUC is the UK’s umbrella student organization for some 600 higher education institutions representing 7 million students.

The motion “condemns Israeli military presence in the West Bank and Gaza,” and calls on students to “co-ordinate a nationwide student day of action to commemorate UN Palestine Solidarity Day on 29 November,” the Jewish Chronicle reported.

“Justice for Palestine” also included amendment 518a, a provision proposed by the student union of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London formally aligning the student organization with the BDS initiative. After a heated debate, 19 Executive Council members voted in favor of the provision, 14 against and one abstained.

The Jewish Chronicle reported that the vote took place through a secret ballot, and was originally scheduled to take place at the NUC’s annual conference in April, but was postponed until June due to lack of time to debate the issue.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the decision had “little practical implications, since this body has already voiced anti-Israel opinions in the past.”

“Instead of expressing hatred, British students would benefit from studying history and understanding that the distance between conveying hate language and prejudice to committing despicable crimes is not that great,” the spokesperson said.

In the wake of the vote, the British Government restated its firm opposition to calls to boycott Israel.

In a statement, the deputy British ambassador to Israel, Dr. Rob Dixon, said: “We are deeply committed to promoting the UK’s trade and business ties with Israel, as part the flourishing partnership between the two countries. The reality is one of rapidly strengthening links between British and Israeli universities in science and academic cooperation.

“As David Cameron has said, the UK Government will never allow those who want to boycott Israel to shut down 60 years worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger,” the statement added.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid urged the British government to condemn the NUS move “which only serves to stir up hatred and which undermines any hope for diplomatic progress. The decision by the NUS to join the BDS movement is hypocritical and one-sided; it fails to even mention terrorism and the firing of rockets against Israel,” he said. “How can an organization which refuses to condemn the brutal terrorists of ISIS but calls for a boycott of Israel be taken seriously?”

Lapid, who will be visiting the United Kingdom later this month, said he intended “to raise the issue with the government and leading opinion leaders so that we can fight against this. Yesh Atid sees the fight against attempts to boycott Israel as a top priority in the international arena.”

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