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March 9, 2016 1:36 pm

Pro-BDS Vote by University College London Students Sparks Controversy

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University College London. Photo: website

University College London. Photo: website

The student union at the University College London voted Tuesday to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, The Algemeiner has learned. The manner in which the vote was taken has generated controversy, however, and Jewish and pro-Israel groups are calling for a student-wide general assembly to discuss it.

According to Britain’s Jewish News, the student officers of the Union Council voted 14-4 in favor of the BDS resolution. The vote occurred the day after a members of group called Friends of Palestine Society dressed as IDF soldiers and manned mock checkpoints on campus, as part of what it called the “Palestinian Experience.”

While supporters of the resolution celebrated — tweeting messages such as, “This is a tremendous victory for BDS at our campus” — complaints were reported both about the process leading up to the vote and the way in which the vote was conducted.

Ariel Tamman, co-president of the Friends of Israel Society, told Jewish News that the motion was not well publicized in advance, having been mentioned only on the union’s website without any additional promotion. He himself became aware of it only a few hours before it was debated, he said.

Union of Jewish Students Campaigns Director Russell Langer told Jewish News, “This motion was voted on by only 21 people, a process that is completely undemocratic and unrepresentative. BDS is too divisive an issue to be decided by such a small and unrepresentative body, and a decision like this should have been put to an all-student vote.”

Langer added that neither the university’s Jewish Society nor Friends of Israel society had been consulted about the resolution, speculating that this was deliberate so that “no opposition to the motion could be raised.”

The Pinsker Centre for Zionist Education, recently established to transform pro-Israel discourse on campus, called the decision the “latest example of an extreme minority cynically manipulating the corrupt aspects of student democracy in order to pass policies which do not represent majority-student opinion.”

A petition calling for a General Assembly to discuss the BDS motion stated:

Despite the small numbers in the room and the extremely poor promotion of the meeting, BDS supporters on the council rejected proposals for the motion … to be deferred to a General Assembly where all students could come and debate, and they even voted to curtail debate before ordinary students who had come to offer their views could speak. Council members supporting BDS even tried to move discussion earlier by arguing that students who had only just heard about the poorly-advertised meeting and were still on the way “had only themselves to blame.”

Arieh Kovler, of the Fair Play Campaign, told Jewish News that the resolution was “troubling,” because it includes a “clause that all Sabbatical officers must ‘respect and uphold’ the boycott,” “effectively barring” Jewish students from running for those roles.

Sabbatical officers oversee various aspects of student life, and include positions such as the “Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ Officer,” the “Welfare and International Officer” (representing “the needs of international students”) and the “Women’s Officer” (representing the “interests of women students”).

University College London itself, which is independent from the student union, told Jewish News that the university “is opposed to any policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.”

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