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April 5, 2016 1:54 pm

Edinburgh U Group Condemns Student Government’s BDS Vote

avatar by Andrew Pessin

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University of Edinburgh. Photo: Wikipedia

University of Edinburgh. Photo: Wikipedia

A student group that promotes cross-party discussion about Israel at Edinburgh University has strongly condemned last week’s student government passage of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion, The Algemeiner has learned.

The Israel Engagement Society (IES) stated on its website that the BDS motion is “irresponsible and intolerant [and] threatens to undermine the reputation of the University of Edinburgh and the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA).”

IES was critical not merely of the content of the motion but also of the process by which it was passed.

According to IES, the motion passed 249-153 with 22 abstentions, a turnout representing only 1.2% of the nearly 36,000 students matriculated at Edinburgh. This it described as a “vanishingly small mandate for such a controversial motion that will likely marginalize students of Israeli nationality.”

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Moreover, said IES, the university’s system was ill-equipped to deal properly with an issue of such importance. All 36,000 matriculated students were eligible to vote if they showed up for the meeting, but the room the vote was held in had a maximum capacity of 250, or about 0.7% of eligible voters. Not only was the entire vote “premised on only a small number of students attending,” IES stated, but the size of the room meant that “nearly half the 424 actual voters” were unable even “to see or hear speeches for or against the motion.”

There were also concerns about the integrity of the vote as a secret ballot. According to IES, any student presenting a valid student card could cast a ballot, but no mechanisms were in place to prevent individuals from voting more than once. The statement quoted IES-President-elect Noa Cohen saying, “I found the number of people voting outside without having their student cards checked deeply suspicious.”

IES Vice President Theo Robertson-Bonds stated, “I am disgusted that our students’ association has passed a BDS policy, singling out the world’s only Jewish state and marginalizing groups on our campus that the EUSA should be supporting. We will fight to ensure that this policy is not implemented over the next few weeks. What is promising is that our society’s support has increased significantly over the past year, which prepares the ground for us defeating this movement in future.”

According to The Jewish Chronicle, the EUSA vote included motions “to target products, companies and institutions that profit from or are implicated in, the violation of Palestinian rights,” “[to] resist any action that gives political or economic support to violations of international law by the State of Israel and complicit companies,” “[to] mandate sabbatical officers to work with the Black and Minority Ethnic liberation group, as well as Edinburgh University Students for Justice in Palestine, to lobby and campaign for the university to also commit to BDS,” as well as to promote an academic boycott of Israel.

Imogen Wilson, EUSA’s Vice President of Academic Affairs, told the Chronicle: “The BDS motion was passed by students following a robust but respectful debate, at our best-attended Student Council of this academic year. With over 400 votes cast on the motion, it’s clear that University of Edinburgh students care deeply about the issues raised, and we are committed to ensuring all sides of the argument are heard.”

The Israel Engagement Society was formed in August 2015. According to its website, its members come from across the political spectrum, and have diverse political views on the conflict. It became an official EUSA society in November 2015, despite “concerted effort by anti-Israel groups on campus” to prevent it from affiliating to the students’ association.

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