Students at a top Scottish University have rejected calls for comments from student union leaders condemning Israel’s operation in Gaza to be retracted amid safety fears from Jewish and Israeli students.
A motion debated on Wednesday urged three sabbatical officers at Edinburgh University to withdraw comments made in July saying: “We are horrified and completely condemn the Israeli Government’s military assault currently taking place on Gaza that has led to the killing of over 1300 Palestinians, with the majority being civilians.”
The motion ‘EUSA for Peace’ argued that the union leaders lacked the mandate to make such a statement and said: “EUSA has policy mandating that students can enjoy a safe space in The University of Edinburgh’s campuses and in EUSA venues. EUSA Membership is of diverse composure, including those of both Jewish and Muslim faith, and those of Israeli and Palestinian nationalities.
“Complaints have been made to some elected EUSA representatives by Israeli and Jewish students that they feel the statement made them feel unsafe on campus and unable to take part in any EUSA debate relating to this.”
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But following a large turnout, students rejected it by 165 votes to 70 – a move condemned by the Union of Jewish Students.
A statement said: “UJS believes all students unions should remain safe spaces which are inclusive and representative for Jewish students. Last night, an Israeli student told the meeting how she felt intimidated and was used to being treated with disdain.
“For a student union to disregard those genuine impressions in the name of showing solidarity is disingenuous to the overall cause for a peaceful resolution and worst of all, it does not secure the needs and representation of all its members.”
According to the UESA Safe Space Policy, “Members are expected to respect the right of all.. attending Student Council …to enjoy EUSA as a safe space environment, defined as a space which is welcoming and safe and includes the prohibition of discriminatory language and actions.” They also hold a ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy towards discrimination based on 10 different criteria.
Opposing the motion, Faatima Osman, who is the ‘EUSA Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Liberation Group Convenor’, said: “We are here to support all members. Palestinians are still dying as a result of injuries sustained during summer Israeli military campaign.”
Speaking to The Student, Osman continued to say that “I’m immensely relieved the motion fell. To demand the retraction of the statement the sabbs made which simply condemned the deaths of over two thousand four hundred people is simply deplorable. The only way to achieve true peace is through justice and not by whitewashing history and attempting to place both sides as if they are on an equal footing.”
Theo Robertson-Bonds, an EUSA external affairs campaign organiser and the propoer of this motion, told The Student: “Tonight, our union voted against our own safe space policy and ignored the stories of a minority of students out of political convenience.”
In a statement to the Jewish News, he added: “I’m incredibly disappointed that EUSA has voted down a motion to protect our students against anti-semitism.
“We wanted to see a representative, inclusive students’ union, and I’m incredibly proud that both J-Soc and Labour Students worked hard together to create a motion for that vision.
“In spite of what happened last night, we’ll continue to campaign for the rights of all of our students, and against our union’s inconsiderate stance on what is a tragic conflict for both sides.”
In other news, Exeter University Student Union voted on a Boycott Divestments and Sanctions motion, voting 894 for, 131 against with 15 abstentions.