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May 8, 2018 11:12 am

Sussex University Students Renew Commitment to Boycott Israel

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The University of Sussex campus. Photo: Ak689 via Wikimedia Commons.

Students at the University of Sussex in England voted to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, the school’s Students’ Union announced on Friday.

Nearly 69 percent of voters urged their representatives to “continue to hold a policy in support of the BDS movement.”

The union, which initially endorsed BDS against the Jewish state in 2015, does not currently support a boycott of any other country.

The referendum was considered by 940 voters, representing 7 percent of the university’s more than 13,000 students. It commits the union “to lobby the University to drop all investments in and not work with all companies that are complicit.”

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“It is vital that a BDS policy is passed at Sussex due to the links the university has with companies that help Israel violate international law,” the Sussex Friends of Palestine Society wrote in a document accompanying the referendum.

The university “refuses to commit to remove its investments from companies complicit in Israeli Violations of International Law,” it argued, and “has a contract with Eden Springs, a company that uses water from a spring in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.”

Students opposed to the referendum, whose counter-argument was also included on the ballot, warned that it would tell Jewish students to “stay away.”

“Stay away because the 93% of you who say Israel is central to your Jewish identity will need to leave that part of you at the door if you want to fit in,” the Vote NO: #PromotePeace coalition wrote, referencing a study of British Jews carried out by City University in 2015.

“Israeli society is not homogenous; its diversity brings with it the activists, academics and leaders who are seeking to make peace more likely,” the students continued. “Boycotting them will make it harder, rather than easier for us to have an impact.”

Following the referendum’s passage, a university spokesperson told The Algemeiner that while “we support the rights of students to campaign on issues they care about, we don’t have any plans to change our industry partnerships or investments.”

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) — which represents some 60 Jewish Societies in the UK and Ireland — nonetheless called the measure “narrow, harmful and one-sided,” and applauded the students “who ran the positive counter-campaign.”

“We are working closely with the Jewish Society to ensure the insidious consequences of BDS that we have seen on too many campuses following similar results do not occur in Sussex,” UJS said.

The Sussex Friends of Palestine Society, conversely, praised the referendum’s success as a “testament to the growing student Palestine solidarity movement.”

“Voters across campus voiced their anger at Israel’s brutal repression of peaceful protesters at the Great Return March, backing calls for an immediate two-way arms embargo between the UK and Israel,” the group wrote on social media.

BDS was launched by Palestinian civil groups in 2005, and describes itself as an effort “to isolate Israel academically, culturally, economically and militarily.” Supporters say it seeks to pressure Israel to comply with international law, while critics accuse it of rejecting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and aiming to dismantle the Jewish state.

The campaign has been condemned by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the leading representative of the UK Jewish community, as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, who in 2017 said boycotts of Israel “are unacceptable and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to them.”

Despite this opposition, BDS resolutions have been adopted by students’ unions at more than a dozen UK universities in recent years.

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