Northern Ireland’s student body has told its elected officials they shouldn’t accept trips to Israel.
NUS-USI, which represents more than 200,000 students in Northern Ireland, passed policy to discourage free educational trips to the Jewish state and the occupied territories, often organised by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).
A motion agreed at their annual conference on 4-5 April, resolves “to condemn student executive officers accepting paid trips to Israel provided by organisations that actively advocate against furthering Palestinian human rights, liberation and justice”.
It says: “UJS and other organisations should reveal all their funding sources publicly for transparency and accountability reasons.”
The Union of Jewish Students said the policy is a “disappointing” attempt “to bar officers from engaging with the difficult topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from multiple angles in a broad, nuanced and balanced way”.
They add, “the implication that UJS is an organisation that ‘advocate[s] against furthering Palestinian human rights, liberation and justice’ is a mendacious and grossly offensive slur” as they campaign for a two state solution, and “UJS is neither funded nor directed by the Israeli government, the continued suggestion to the contrary is sinister and deeply offensive.”
The conference saw the reaffirming of support for boycotts of Israel, a policy initially passed in 2012. In voting for it not to lapse, NUS-USI agree to “implement the BDS campaign using a progressive approach that utilizes an assessed look at companies and products to determine if they fit the Palestinian call to BDS”.
Policy was passed to combat anti-Semitism in the student movement, “regardless of whether an anti-Semitism problem exists or not on our own campuses”.
The motion makes NUS-USI “mandated to work with relevant educational institutions in order to address racism and antiSemitism on campus and methods to alleviate it”.
Gary Spedding, a cross-party activist on Israel/Palestine, who proposed the BDS motion in 2012 was instrumental in putting together the ‘trips to Israel’ and ‘anti-Semitism’ policies.
Speaking to Jewish News, he said: “I’m tired of anti-Semitism constantly being an issue within the student movement and the wider left. We should have tackled this a long time ago in order to protect our Jewish compatriots and colleagues, respect their autonomy and political agency, whilst also standing in solidarity as allies with them.”
He added: “Having a robust policy on anti-Semitism at a student movement level contributes to educating about and engaging in debate on these crucial issues so as to expand our knowledge base and be able to recognise, call out and actively tackle anti-Semitism.”
Reacting to the motion to tackle anti-Semitism, a UJS spokesperson said they “welcome steps taken by NUS-USI to combat antisemitism with an emergency motion but are concerned to see that the IHRA definition, adopted by the Government, the Labour Party and voted for by the Union of Jewish Students Conference was ignored by the conference. We look forward to working with NUS-USI as the only national representative body for Jewish students in the UK and Ireland.”