by Adam Schapira, who studies Philosophy at University College London (UCL) and is the current president of the University College London Union Jewish Society
Last Monday, in the spirit of intellectual openness, the UCLU debating society passed a motion opposing the BDS movement. Both sides of the debate were given a fair platform to make compelling arguments, and the student body sided with the proposition.
The same spirit of openness and democracy was not shown following what felt like a clandestine assault on the state of Israel the next day at a UCLU council meeting. A motion to implement BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) at the UCLU was overwhelmingly supported, despite no prior consultation with all parties concerned about the motion.
As president of the UCLU Jewish Society, I am deeply troubled by the passing of this motion for three main reasons:
- The motion to implement BDS is not representative of the UCLU student body: the council flatly rejected a motion to defer the debate to the general assembly, where every student receives a fair vote.
- On countless occasions, BDS has been exposed for anti-Semitic foundations. One of its co-founders is on record for rejecting the right of a Jewish state in Israel. This motion directly affects Jewish students yet there was no consultation as to the effects this has on Jewish students who wish to express their support for Israel free from fear and intimidation.
- BDS is inherently divisive. Rather than taking positive steps toward a peaceful solution, it serves to undermine the work being done to promote moderate voices on both sides of the conflict. Masquerading itself as a motion that promotes Palestinian human rights, it actually shuns debate and makes dialogue on campus still more difficult.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perhaps the most contentious and complex issue in modern political discourse. Academics, politicians, activists and students have grappled with the conflict time and again for decades. The gravity of the issue is such that it simply deserves more respect than was shown. The motion marks the latest example of a few unrepresentative student leaders abusing their position to unjustly slander the state of Israel. Thousands of students have a vested interest in the conflict and it is unacceptable that UCL students are not given the representation they deserve, irrespective of their political stance. Only 12% of UCL students voted in the UCLU elections. There are few more serious issues than a decision to boycott an entire country. To be sure, the remaining 88% of UCL students have a right to voice their opinion.
Make no mistake, BDS has a sinister undertone. It is perfectly legitimate to be critical of Israeli policy making. Indeed, I am an outspoken critic of the current Israeli government. It is not, however, legitimate to call into question the very existence of the Jewish state of Israel. That is an Anti-Semitic assault. BDS in no way furthers efforts towards a peaceful two-state solution. It calls for the systematic boycott of Israeli society making no distinction between Israel proper, and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It unfairly targets the one and only Jewish state—the only functioning democracy in the Middle East— libellously labelling it an apartheid regime. To draw parallels on apartheid-era South Africa, when Israeli-Arabs sit on the Supreme Court, represent Israel in its parliament, and have constitutionally enshrined equal rights is to misrepresent history, and is frankly offensive.
Like many Israeli’s already are; be critical of Israel. Be critical of settlement building. Stand up for Israeli-Arab’s constitutional rights. Push and lobby for a two-state solution by building bridges between Israeli’s and Palestinians. Campaign against all forms of violence and terrorism on both sides of the conflict.
But don’t support a movement that seeks to drive each side away from the negotiating table, punishing not just Israeli’s but the thousands of Palestinian workers who rely on Israeli companies for substantially higher wages and improved living conditions.
Instead let us focus our efforts collaborating on a joint UCL project that will work with Israeli and Palestinian NGO’s to provide much needed investment in the Palestinian territories. Let us create jobs and employment; education and housing. If we refocus our efforts by changing the realities on the ground, perhaps, one day, peace will come.
I am grateful for the online petition that is calling for this motion to be reverted to the general assembly where, in the interest of democracy, all students can contribute to a fruitful debate on a vitally pressing issue. I urge all readers to sign it.