The University of Sussex campus

The University of Sussex campus

Jewish students at the University of Sussex helped defeat a boycott motion last week by “academic arguments” and “highlighting the people working to end the occupation”.

The victory against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which was won by 904 votes to 649, was down to what organisers Miriam Steiner, Daniel Ben-Chorin and Joshua Brill described as a “variation in tactics”.

“Our campaign did not include any reference to BDS’s supposed anti-Semitism, nor the terrorist organisation Hamas, nor Israel’s security concerns or the establishment of Israel,” said Steiner, after the 30 May vote. 

“Whilst these may all be valid reasons not to support BDS, academic arguments about the need to support peace are equally valid, and important to emphasise,” she said.

The 30 May vote at Sussex, which was the first campus to adopt a boycott motion, was being seen as a turning point in the fight against pro-academic boycott groups on campus. 

News of the Sussex victory comes only two weeks after the National Union of Students voted down a motion that called on the NUS to “continue to boycott companies that benefit from the illegal occupation of the West Bank.”

BDS activists have sought to highlight Israeli settlement building and what they see as the mistreatment of Palestinians by adopting boycott motions at cultural and academic institutions, but at Sussex they encountered a different kind of resistance.

The students set up a group called ‘Pro: Palestine, Israel, Peace’ which, they say, garnered support because it was “based on the liberal morals and beliefs of people who happen to be Jewish, and not those campaigning because of their religion”.

Steiner explained that the group even used quotes from pro-Palestinian intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian head of the president of Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, to support their anti-boycott campaign.

“These progressive arguments show that within universities, even those institutions with a very active community of people who support the Palestinian cause, there can be variation in tactics in line with our progressive views to get the best possible results,” said Steiner. 

“It shows that people who disagree with the boycott of Israel are not merely confined to the traditional image of ardent Zionists and can come in many forms with many valid arguments.”