Britain’s National Student Union Joins BDS Movement

Jewish student campaigning against motion – which merely affirmed earlier vote – says, ‘They are making a much bigger fuss of this in Israel than anyone is in Britain.’

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Protesters hold a banner that reads 'Boycott Israel' during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris on August 2, 2014.Credit: AFP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The leadership of Britain’s National Union of Students voted on Tuesday to boycott Israel and affiliate itself with the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The motion, which passed 19-14 in the union’s National Executive Council, was not new; it affirmed a similar vote taken last August during the Gaza conflict. 

The vote, put forward by the student union at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, was criticized by the Union of Jewish Students, but also by leading NUS members, including its vice-president, Joe Vinson, who tweeted after the vote that “Anti-Semitism is like a virus, it mutates and infects everything it touches. It’s mutated into BDS and NUS is infected.”

Jewish student leaders attacked the vote, accusing the national union’s executive council of being taken over by radical left-wingers. Last October the same executive council refused to vote on a condemnation of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, on the grounds that such a move would be “Islamophobic.” The Union of Jewish Students said in a statement that the NUS is “playing at politics.”

Maggie Suissa, campaigns director for the Union of Jewish Students, told Haaretz that “the motion isn’t new and it is largely symbolic since it doesn’t mandate the student unions at different universities to follow it. However it is bad news for Jewish students because it means that at many universities now, we will have to campaign and fight boycott measures and there will be moves to ban JSocs (Jewish Societies) from taking part in student events.” Student unions at a number of universities in Britain voted to ban their local Jewish Society because of their Israel-related activities, including Cardiff University last August and Middlesex University in 2012, but these votes were quickly overturned.

Despite the largely symbolic nature of the vote, this will doubtless be hailed as a major victory for the BDS movement, and it has already caused a stir in Israel where the report on the vote opened the main news show on Channel Two. One Jewish student involved in the campaigning before the vote said, “They are making a much bigger fuss of this in Israel than anyone is in Britain.”

Netanyahu says BDS is same as historic anti-Semitism 

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Likud Knesset faction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We are in the midst of a diplomatic campaign. In this campaign reality is being distorted and we stand falsely accused. There is nothing new in this. Throughout our history we’ve been falsely accused. We must wage this struggle united, repelling the lies and the unique standards by which Israel is judged. We aren’t perfect. There is much to correct and we constantly do so. Israel is a democracy that is faced with challenges posed by the harshest groups in the world, but it maintains its democratic nature. I expect the democratic world to stand behind us on important issues with a loud and clear voice. The main issue is the truth. I expect MKs and ministers to lead the campaign for truth.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said of the BDS movement, “Our enemies realized that they can’t vanquish us by conventional wars, which led to a diplomatic confrontation that includes appeals to the International Criminal Court, for example. Some of this stems from a wish to curb our steps, such as with the Goldstone report after the 2008-2009 Gaza war, or with committees dealing with Operation Protective Edge last summer. We fight back since our hands can’t be tied when it comes to defending our citizens.

“Some of it has other motives,” Ya’alon continued, “such as the drive to delegitimize us, with an unholy alliance between extreme Islamist elements and nationalist Arab groups. You also, regrettably, find Western elements there, who naively believe that the problem is apartheid in Israel, which doesn’t exist. Anti-Semitism is also part of the assault against us. We shouldn’t belittle this but neither should we be alarmed. We keep hearing of the impending tsunami and isolation. Israel is not isolated, and it enjoys good relations with many countries. It has to explain itself and fight where it has to for its just cause. We’re blamed for the absence of negotiations, but one should ask who slammed the door in Obama’s face – it was Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), not Netanyahu."