SOAS

SOAS

by Stephen Oryszczuk

A London university has become the latest institution to vote for an academic boycott of Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Over 1,500 staff and students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) voted to break ties with Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Of 1,283 voting students, support for a boycott was 75 percent, and 60 percent of 300 lecturers voted likewise. 

The results of a week-long referendum were released on Friday evening.

Students and staff had been asked whether they wanted to fully join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

“Congratulations to all the wonderful organisers!” tweeted the BDS Movement, as part of its celebrations during Israel Apartheid Week. The result was backed by the university’s Student Union, which has supported BDS since 2005. 

Days earlier, Palestinian students and academics had issued an open letter deriding Israel’s “regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid policies”. They added that Israeli academic institutions were “deeply complicit in planning, implementing and whitewashing this regime of oppression”.

Rana Baker, a master’s graduate of Anthropology at SOAS who was born and raised in Gaza, said: “The academic boycott referendum at SOAS is a first step in the direction of placing Israeli universities in the right context – as war labs.”

Jewish Society president Moselle Paz Solis said the university had a duty of care to foster good relations between different religious and ethnic groups, adding: “This referendum does the opposite… It is divisive and we believe will lead to a deterioration between Israeli and Jewish students and other groups at SOAS.”

The Union of Jewish Students told Jewish News it “unequivocally condemns the use of academic boycotts against Israel along with all other forms of BDS.”

“This referendum by SOAS Students’ Union is the latest attempt to lobby the university to adopt a measure that will isolate its own students and disrupt those whose studies, in the name of academic freedom and debate, are dependent on the institution’s links with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

“UJS has been supporting Jewish students at SOAS in their efforts to fight the academic boycott referendum. Activists have been proactive in creating relevant campaign materials to make a stand at a campus with a long history of anti-Israel sentiment. We have also been supporting students in their efforts to fight the biased way this referendum has been constructed and this has already led to the dismissal of a returning officer. As the referendum is not binding on SOAS, students are also establishing dialogue with the Director to encourage the university to maintain links with Israeli institutions.”