Students at top London university pass Israel boycott motion

Non-binding resolution in support of BDS approved by UCL’s union 14-4; Jewish student leader says vote was ‘completely undemocratic’

Protesters urging a boycott against Israel in Melbourne, file photo (CC-BY SA Takver/Wikimedia Commons)
Protesters urging a boycott against Israel in Melbourne, file photo (CC-BY SA Takver/Wikimedia Commons)

The board of the student union at the prestigious University College London passed a nonbinding motion endorsing the anti-Israel boycott movement.

Student union officers on Wednesday passed the motion supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, by a vote of 14-4, The Jewish News of London reported. There were three abstentions.

The measure said: “As students, we have a responsibility towards ensuring that the Palestinians receive and maintain the human rights they are entitled to. We can do this by actively supporting the BDS movement.”

University College, which was No. 7 in the latest QS rankings of the world’s universities, had not put out a statement in response to the vote.

Prior to the voting, the Friends of Palestine society had organized a series of anti-Israel displays, dubbed the “Palestine Experience,” that included setting up checkpoints at the university that were manned by students dressed as Israeli soldiers.

In a tweet, a representative of the group called the passage “a tremendous victory for BDS at our campus.”

Russell Langer, campaigns director for the British Union of Jewish Students, told The Jewish Chronicle that the process through which the vote was taken was “completely undemocratic and unrepresentative.” Instead of the student union, he argued, the issue should have been put to an all-student referendum.

Langer noted the motion came a day after a BDS debate at the university featuring Israel’s deputy ambassador to Britain, Eitan Na’eh, arguing against boycotting Israel. In a mock vote afterward, 27 students voted to oppose BDS and 24 voted for it. There were 13 abstentions.

The Pinsker Centre for Zionist Education, a pro-Israel group working with students at British Universities, released a statement rejecting the motion.

“UCLU’s adoption of an academic and cultural boycott of the State of Israel is a slap in the face for all those who believe in the principles at the heart of University College London: liberal tolerance and freedom of expression,” read the statement. “It marks the latest example of an extreme minority cynically manipulating the corrupt aspects of student democracy in order to pass policies which do not represent majority-student opinion. As recently as Monday evening at a debate at UCL, students voted to condemn the BDS movement.”

The group said it would be working with the UCL Friends of Israel society to mount a legal challenge to the decision.

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