The National Executive Committee of the NUS today passed a motion resolving to “affiliate to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement” and “support local BDS campaigns initiated by students”. The motion also resolved “to reaffirm NUS policy on boycotting companies… which have been identified as being complicit in human rights abuses in Israel/Palestine”.
Motion 518a was passed by secret ballot, with 19 votes for, 14 votes against, and one abstention. Originally proposed by SOAS SU for NUS conference, the decision was pushed over to NEC after running out of time in Liverpool. The motion was spoken on by Canterbury Christ Church SU, who resolved “to condemn and call for an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and illegal occupation of the West Bank.”
Sai Englert of SOAS went further, proposing support for the BDS campaign and noting that in summer 2014 alone Israel “launched massive military assault” on Palestine, and that “over 2,000 Palestinians were killed and over 10,000 people were injured and hundreds of thousands were displaced”. The amendment also noted that “the UK government is directly arming Israel with £180m worth of weapons sold in the period 2008-2012” and thus resolved to “to call upon the UK government to stop arming Israel”.
Joe Vinson, the NUS Vice President for Further Education and leader of Labour Students, voted against, tweeting that “Antisemitism is like a virus, it mutates and infects everything it touches. It’s mutated into BDS and NUS is infected. #nusnec”. Clarifying his position, he argued that “Jewish students on campuses… suffer because of the antisemitism that goes hand in hand with BDS”.
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) released a statement on their website arguing that the BDS movement represented “toxic forces” and noting that “This year, Jewish students collected over 2000 signatures from more than 10 campuses in support of a two state solution and against BDS”
Sai Englert accused opposition of having “attempted to smear the solidarity movement as racist” and tweeted “Students called-out colonialists parading in occupied Jerusalem in military uniforms and standing in elections. Were called bullies #nusnec (sic)”.
The BDS movement backs boycotting and divesting from Israeli companies and creating economic sanctions as a way in which institutions and governments may apply pressure to, and disassociate from, the State of Israel. The NUS passed similar pro-BDS policy last summer, and motion 518a reaffirmed NUS commitment to it.
SUs have declared open support for BDS at eight British universities (Exeter, Keele, Brunel, Goldsmiths, Swansea, SOAS, Birkbeck and Kingston Student Unions). Motions supporting or name-checking BDS in various other forms having passed at a further 17, according to the motion.