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February 26, 2018 6:05 pm

King’s College London Students Threaten Legal Action After Union Promotes ‘Discriminatory’ BDS Events

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Screenshot of a KCLSU newsletter sent to students on Feb. 23, 2018. Photo: KCLSU.

Students at King’s College London (KCL) are considering taking legal action after their elected representatives promoted “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) events in a mass email to peers.

In an “Officers Update” sent to students on February 23, the KCL Students’ Union (KCLSU) described IAW as an effort to raise “awareness of Israel’s apartheid system over the Palestinian people and [build] support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

The week-long campaign — organized by the KCL Action Palestine Society — began on Monday and includes events on “Football and Whitewashing Apartheid,” as well as “the Politics of Racist Detention: From Palestine to the UK.”

KCL’s Israel Society denounced the newsletter’s inclusion of IAW as an expression of bias and a violation of KCLSU’s mandate.

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“This is the only student society event of the entire year that KCLSU has advertised and endorsed, with absolutely no right to do so,” Tamara Berens — president of KCL Israel Society — said in a statement shared by the advocacy group CAMERA on Campus UK, with which she is affiliated.

Berens indicated that promoting IAW “is not within KCLSU’s usual charitable objects, and is therefore unlawful.”

“It also contravenes the commitment of KCLSU as a charity not to run a political campaign,” she added, urging the student body to apologize for advertising a “discriminatory” series of events in a way that left Jewish and Israeli students “shocked and confused.”

On social media, Berens pointed out that KCLSU President Momin Saqib participated in the “aggressive” protest held at KCL earlier this month against former Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Dan Meridor, which was condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the community’s representative body.

“After ignoring our attempts to arrange a meeting with him, we feel he has acted to purposefully marginalise Israeli students on campus,” she wrote.

A fellow member of KCL Israel Society, Hadar Langerman, also criticized KCLSU’s endorsement of IAW, whose slogan “itself is antisemitic and contrary to the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of antisemitism,” which was adopted by the British government in 2016 and by the National Union of Students in 2017. Aside from addressing classic antisemitism, the definition also touches on antisemitic expressions couched as anti-Zionism, including the use of double standards against Israel and the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

“There are procedures in place where students can ask for their events to be advertised, but this is unprecedented,” argued Langerman, who is also a fellow with CAMERA. “To see our union, which is supposed to be representing all students, take a deliberate jab at Jewish students and those supportive of Israel is appalling and frightening.”

KCL Israel Society said it raised its concerns with both KCLSU and KCL administrators, neither of which replied to requests for comment by press time.

Last week, an official with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) — which represents some 8,500 students in the UK and Ireland — wrote that IAW “is weakening,” with events planned in “fewer than 10 universities across the country” in 2018.

 The current “handful” of IAW events, which still serve to “intimidate Jewish students and others,” are “being dragged by tired, worn-out campaigners who can’t admit defeat,” argued UJS campaigns manager Liron Velleman.

Yet this characterization was challenged by Berens, who wrote in response that while the number of IAW events “has somewhat waned” due to “the efforts of Zionist activists on campus,” Jewish students and their representatives should remain vigilant.

“As long as events that demonise and defame Israel continue to occur with the participation of student union presidents and sabbatical officers,” she observed, “we must treat the issue as a pressing one.”

Update: KCLSU provided a statement to The Algemeiner on Wednesday, saying, “All societies are afforded the opportunity to add their events to the officer’s update email–this opportunity is also available to the Israeli society.”

“KCLSU itself has no policy position in relation to Israel Apartheid Week. As a charity, KCLSU does not adopt or endorse corporate expressions of view by members on issues not affecting students as students. KCLSU provides a platform for the exploration of a diverse range of interests through its support for 260 ratified societies. These interests include a number of political parties, issues of global human rights and animal welfare topics.”

“We do not seek to further these interests as an end in themselves but it is entirely within our objects to enable our students to explore the topics educationally. Details of the charitable and broader legal ramifications of what our students can set policy or campaign positions on are regularly considered by our board and communicated to student groups.”

In a separate statement, Saqib said he was “deeply hurt by” allegations that he acted to marginalize Israeli students on campus, and has “always put students first irrespective of their personal beliefs or backgrounds.”

“I am more than happy to meet with the Israeli society and provide the necessary assurances of my stance to equality and mutual support for the development of social activities,” he added. “I am keen to organise this at the earliest available opportunity and will look to work with the societies in question.”

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