The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the National Union of Students has voted in favour of a motion supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The motion passed by 23 votes to 18, with 1 abstention. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign began in 2005 and calls for sanctions to be placed upon Israel ‘until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights’. This includes the boycott of ‘products and companies that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.’
It is understood that the meeting of the NUS’ NEC had 14 motions on the agenda, with an hour to discuss them.
Support for BDS was passed as an amendment to a motion to ‘condemn the collective punishment and killing in Gaza’. The original motion resolved to ‘condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza and to support calls for an immediate ceasefire’, as well as to support campaigns calling for the blockade of Gaza to be lifted. However, the successfully passed amendment to the motion added a call for the British government to cease aid and funding to Israel, impose an arms embargo against Israel, and to demand a ceasefire. The amendment also called upon students to boycott companies and corporations ‘complicit in financing and aiding Israel’s military’, such as G4S and Hewlett Packard.
The motion further called for ‘an internal audit of NUS services, products and departments to ensure they do not, as far as is practical, employ or work with companies identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity, and actively work to cut ties with those that do’. This means that NUS Services Ltd, which acts as a purchasing consortium for many students’ unions, will no longer purchase services from companies deemed to aid Israel’s military capacity.
The NUS is composed of over 600 student unions in the UK and claims to represent over 7 million students. The National Executive Council (NEC) acts as the decision-making body of the NUS in between its annual National Conference and is composed of elected representatives and officers from throughout the organisation, as well as 15 individually elected members and the National President.
The UJS (Union of Jewish Students), which represents 8500 Jewish students studying in the UK and Ireland, expressed concern over the decision.
In a statement the UJS said, “The motion supports the BDS movement, a movement whose tactics are inherently indiscriminate and whose boundaries are undefined. Whatever your politics on the conflict, when there is a strong campaign with ill-defined boundaries, there is no way to monitor the areas and people you will end up targeting.”
The statement continued, “The passing of this motion is a failure of NUS to maintain its duty of care to the variety of student groups it must endeavour to represent, particularly with the International Students Officer voting for BDS.
“NUS NEC have passed a policy that will only divide student groups, undermine interfaith relations, and suffocate progressive voices for peace on both sides.”
The passing of the motion follows the decision in June, by OUSU Council, to reaffiliate to the NUS for the academic year 2014-15, following a troubled referendum on OUSU’s membership in which there were found to be ‘serious irregularities’. An OUSU Junior Tribunal later voided the referendum’s result, after it was discovered that over 1,000 votes were cast fraudulently using spare voter codes.
In February 2013, Oxford JCR and MCR representatives, at OUSU Council, voted overwhelmingly against a motion to support BDS at the NUS’ annual conference that year. At the time, the motion was defeated, with 69 votes against, 15 abstentions, and 10 votes in favour.
A second year student at Balliol told Cherwell, “The purpose of the NUS is ultimately to defend the rights of students and make their lives better. BDS serves only to bully Israeli and Jewish students into believing a fallacy: That celebrating their culture by buying Israeli goods is tantamount to supporting the actions of the Israeli government. BDS drives a wedge between students, encouraging them to choose sides, detracting from the overall peace process. How does this make any student’s life better?”
James Elliott, a member of the NUS National Executive Council, said, “During South African apartheid, NUS took the decision to stand in solidarity with oppressed South Africans, making Nelson Mandela our honorary Vice-President. I believe we have acted in the same spirit today by deciding to boycott companies that facilitate the Israeli military’s capacity to massacre Palestinians.”