University College London Union (UCLU) voted Tuesday night to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, in what campus-based human rights campaigners hailed as a “tremendous victory.”
The motion to support BDS was passed by a margin of 14-4, with 3 abstentions, at a meeting of UCLU Council, a body made up of democratically elected members, sabbatical officers, part time officers and student faculty representatives. An attempt by a minority of Council members to take the motion to a general assembly vote failed.
The motion, which can be read in its entirety here, notes that “the Palestinian people continue to face a systematic and institutionalised oppression”, and that “the state of Israel is able to maintain its system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid because of the support of international regime and the complicity of corporations and institutions across the world.”
The motion also noted how “BDS tactics have been endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS), National Union of Teachers (NUT) the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Unite the Union, and the University and Colleges Union (UCU), more than 25 UK student unions” and “many other NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and grassroots networks across the world.”
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According to the motion, the UCLU will now “publicly endorse, and support the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)” and “explain this decision to students through an email to all students and on the union website.” The Union resolved “to no longer stock any products boycotted by the BDS movement in any union sales outlet, not advertise nor endorse them.”
The Union will also “work with students to publish a report on academic, corporate and economic links between the university and companies or institutions that participate in or are complicit in Israeli violations of international law.”
As a result of the motion, the UCLU’s Black & Minority Ethnic Students’ Officer will “organise and chair a student working group for BDS”, which will “work with the college to organise and facilitate an academic boycott.” All sabbatical officers are also now mandated to “respect and uphold this boycott”, and UCLU NUS delegates will “vote in favour of any pro-BDS policy at NUS.”
This is not the first success for Palestine solidarity activists at UCLU. In December 2012, a motion was overwhelmingly passed by referendum (74.5 per cent voted ‘yes’) that mandated UCLU to take “take concrete steps to ensure that UCL and UCLU are not complicit in any way with the occupation of Palestine.” In January 2015, UCLU also passed a motion to cut ties with British security giant G4S.
UCLU Friends of Palestine tweeted after the meeting: “This is a tremendous victory for BDS at our campus. Well done to our BDS team for the motion!” A student who was present at the Council meeting and spoke in favour of the motion said it was “amazing that the university I go to, is finally taking a stance on the horrible injustice that’s happening in Palestine.”
He added: “We’ve worked hard to perfect this motion, and I’m so glad the union stood by the side of justice and voted in favour of it.”
Speaking to the Jewish News, the co-president of the Friends of Israel Society complained that “he had only become aware of the motion a few hours before it was debated”, even though he admitted that it had been “mentioned on the union’s website” as per protocol.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS), meanwhile, described UCLU Council as “a small and unrepresentative body” and denounced what it called a “completely undemocratic” process. UJS did not elaborate on how a decision made by elected student officers was ‘undemocratic’.
According to Riya Hassan, BDS National Committee (BNC) Europe Campaigns Officer, “the amazing campaigning by students at UCL and across the UK show that the government’s attacks on BDS won’t stop our growing movement.” She added: “As students in Palestine continue to be at the forefront of popular resistance to Israeli apartheid and colonialism, it’s amazing that UK students are taking such concrete steps in solidarity with their struggle.”
Hassan noted that “the UK student movement has in recent years succeeded in pressuring universities to cut ties with Israeli and international companies such as Ahava, G4S and Veolia that profit from apartheid.” She continued: “We’re really looking forward to working with the student movement to pressure more institutions to take these kinds of steps.”
In April 2013, Sheffield University decided not to renew a contract with French company Veolia following a campaign by the Palestine society that was supported by the student union. Last year, Veolia withdrew entirely from Israel. Also in 2013, G4S lost out on contracts with King’s College London and the University of Southampton as a result of student BDS campaigns.
Meanwhile, student unions at Dundee, Edinburgh, Kent, Essex, Birmingham and Keele universities have all voted to cancel contracts the union held with G4S. In August 2014, the national executive of the National Union of Students voted to endorse BDS, while in February 2015, SOAS University in London became the first university in Europe to vote through a referendum for Academic Boycott.