The Palestinian BDS movement has applied various tactics on campus to stifle free speech. The latest case took place at an Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) debate on a vote to boycott Israel. Imogen Wilson, the vice president for academic affairs at Edinburgh's student association, who opposed the motion, was threatened with removal from the student council session for breaking "safe space" rules by raising her hand.
The EUSA motion 6(c) on safe space states that "Refraining from hand gestures which denote disagreement or in any other way indicating disagreement with a point or points being made. Disagreements should only be evident through the normal course of debate."
After voting for and against her removal she was allowed to stay.
Also troubling, the EUSA motion to support BDS was passed by 249-153 votes. The motion requires "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" and 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". In addition, the motion calls also for the academic boycott of Israel.
BDS initiatives are strong in Great Britain. In November 3, 2015 the media reported that hundreds of UK academics have signed a public letter requesting to boycott Israeli universities. The letter was signed by 343 academics from 72 universities in the U.K. including eight at the University of Edinburgh. The letter was published as a full page advertisement in The Guardian.
A number of boycott resolutions were passed in Scotland in the last decade. For example, on the 18th of May 2015 Scottish media reported that the University of Strathclyde Student Association joined its counterparts from Edinburgh University and Glasgow Caledonian University student associations in passing a policy to support BDS.
To counter the latest Edinburgh University boycott resolution, Dr. Denis MacEoin, an alumni, published an Open Letter to the Edinburgh University Students' Association, stating "No one holds meetings to call for reform in Islamic states. Instead, people like yourselves pass resolutions condemning the only country that defends those rights for all its citizens and visitors." But this is not his first time, already in September 2011 MacEoin published a letter to the Edinburgh University Student Association following their "vote to boycott Israel because of its 'apartheid'."
Courageous as he is, more students, alumni and academics should protest that Israel alone is being targeted.
Edinburgh University Student Association
Boycott Divest and Sanction
Passed by Student Council of 31st March 2016
What will we do?
1. Ensure EUSA follows and enacts the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. To boycott is to target products, companies and institutions that profit from or are implicated in, the violation of Palestinian rights.
2. To divest is to target corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights, as enshrined in the Geneva Convention, and ensure that investments or pension funds are not used to finance such companies.
3. To call for sanctions is to ask the global community to recognise Israel’s violations of international law and to act accordingly as they do to other member states of the United Nations.
4. Ensure that products sold by EUSA are not grown or produced within occupied Palestinian territories and that services are not provided by companies which are complicit in the occupation of Palestinian land, the blockade of Gaza, the apartheid system within the declared state of Israel and ongoing Israeli state violence, human rights abuses and violations of international law.
5. Support the call from Palestinian civil society of an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions, which are implicated in the perpetuation of Israeli occupation
6. Resist any action that gives political or economic support to violations of international law by the State of Israel and complicit companies.
7. Endorse the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the State of Israel until such time as it ends the occupation, complies with international law, recognises the fundamental rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and respects the Palestinian Right of Return as stipulated in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution #194. [http://bdsmovement.net/call
8. Mandate the sabbatical officers to write a statement regarding our commitment to BDS to be publicised and permanently displayed on EUSA’s website in an area accessible to students and the public.
9. 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, to organise meetings with and to advocate for BDS within the Policy and Resources Committee and other relevant committees and members of university staff.
What is the background to this?
1. Israel has launched multiple military offences against the Gaza Strip, the most serious of the recent assaults began in June 2014 which saw the massacre of over 2000 Palestinians, the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, universities and municipal buildings.
2. Israel also carries out military offences in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Amnesty International notes that the Israeli army uses excessive force which leads to the deaths of dozens of Palestinian civilians.
3. The State of Israel is responsible for widespread and ongoing human rights abuses; including the destruction of homes, theft of land and water resources, arbitrary imprisonment without trial, torture of prisoners and systematic segregation.
4. The actions of the State of Israel are in violation of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of the United Nations.
5. The construction of the Apartheid Segregation Wall and the construction and expansion of Jewish-only Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land has been deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN Security Council (Resolution 242) and the UK Government. The wall causes the forcible separation of Palestinian communities from one another and the annexation of additional Palestinian land as well as creating further barriers to movement, impeding access to education, hospitals and resources.
6. Israeli academic institutions and personnel have been extensively involved for nearly 40 years in their country’s destruction of Palestinian educational endeavors (and thus Palestinian academic freedom) within the Occupied Territories
7. Nelson Mandela noted that the Israeli occupation of Palestine reflects the apartheid government of South Africa through its daily breaches of human rights and international law.
8. The South African Apartheid System was brought to an end- in part- by the international pressures placed on the state through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
9. In 2005, Palestinian civil society organisations called for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel until it complies with international law. At the time this call was endorsed by 171 Palestinian civil society organisations including Trade Unions, (eg. the General Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions and the General Union of Palestinian Teachers); advocacy organisations such as the General Union of Palestinian Women and the General Union of Disabled Palestinians; human rights groups such as Addameer, cultural centres student associations and groups.
10. EUSA has existing policy in support of Palestinian Human Rights including commitment to support the international weeks of action Right2Education and Israeli Apartheid Week; EUSA also supports divestment from companies which are complicit in Israeli occupation, apartheid and human rights abuses (see Support of Divestment in Companies Complicit in Israeli Occupation).
What beliefs motivate the actions you propose?
1. As students, as a responsible and democratic institution and as members of civil society, we have a responsibility to stand against racism and all oppression wherever and whenever it takes place.
2. Human Rights are universal and should be acknowledged and adhered to by all states and businesses.
3. International Law should be acknowledged and adhered to by all states and businesses.
4. Oppressed groups have the right to define their means of liberation and our means of solidarity, Palestinian Civil Society has called for BDS as a means of solidarity, therefore it is our responsibility to adhere to that. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”- Nelson Mandela.
Submitted by the BME Liberation Group and with 20 student signatures
A student at Edinburgh University received a "ludicrous" complaint after she raised her arms during a meeting.
Imogen Wilson, Vice President for academic affairs at Edinburgh's student association, was threatened with removal from Thursday's student council session under "safe space" rules.
After being accused of failing disabled students by not responding to an open letter, Wilson responded instinctively.
"At that point, I raised my arms in disagreement, as we had contacted the writers of the letter and tried hard to organise a meeting. It was for that reason that a safe space complaint was made," Wilson told HuffPost UK.
Section 6c of the Student's Association's safe space policy says that council members should be respectful and considerate.
This is defined as: "Refraining from hand gestures which denote disagreement or in any other way indicating disagreement with a point or points being made. Disagreements should only be evident through the normal course of debate."
When someone has been accused of violating the safe space policy, a vote takes place to decide whether they should be removed from the room. In this instance, 18 people voted to remove Wilson, and 33 voted for her to remain.
Wilson later shook her head whilst someone was speaking, and was threatened with another safe space complaint.
"I completely understand the importance of our safe space policy, and will defend it to the ground, but I did not think that was fair, and had it gone further I would have either left or argued against it," she said.
A fourth-year student at the meeting, who wished to remain anonymous, told HuffPost UK: "The whole thing was a ludicrous abuse of the entire intent of safe space.
"We were having one of the most emotionally tense councils of the year, with the vote on the BDS movement and people speaking who live in Palestine or are Israeli on both sides of the issue.
"There was ample risk of there being an actual safe space issue taking place—an anti-semitic or islamophobic comment for instance—but the whole debate was actually remarkably civil despite how emotional it was.
"So for someone to have abused the very legitimate purpose of safe space rules to get at someone they politically disagreed with was pretty low.
"And for 18 other students who definitely could not have all seen the motion themselves to vote for that sabbatical officer's removal from the room, clearly just out of political disagreement, was also crazy," they said.
Charlie Peters, a first-year student at Edinburgh, sometimes attends the council meetings. He was appalled with the safe space policy in place at his university, and set up a petition against it, which had 1000 signatures on Friday afternoon.
"What sort of an education do you promote if you would make it harder for us to debate and have us avoid the views some do not agree with? We are adults, we do not need condescension or safeguarding," Peters wrote in the letter.
EUSA have been contacted for comment but had yet to respond at the time of publication.
Are we doing enough for Jewish students in our universities?
By Imogen Wilson
April 6, 2016
Last week my Students’ Association voted to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign, with 249 votes for and 153 against. I spoke passionately against the motion, on the grounds that antisemitism is a growing problem in student politics, and that it would be foolish to subscribe to a movement that could divide our campus even further.
I’ve been an elected sabbatical officer at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) or almost a year now, and my first experience of BDS was at a National Union of Students’ Conference in Bolton last summer. There was an awards dinner event that was sponsored by Coca Cola, a company that is on some BDS lists for having a franchise in the West Bank. NUS have had a BDS policy since 2014, and when some NUS officers found out about the sponsorship there was a complete uproar.
Many of the students there, including myself, were new to wider student politics circles and issues. Therefore, our first impression of BDS, and NUS, was a protest outside the dinner that was supposed to be celebrating student achievements from across the UK. I remember thinking how alarming this must have been for Jewish and Israeli student representatives, who on top of being surprised by a protest, may have felt that it was somehow targeted at them.
I’ve become proud of the work that student unions do for women, black and minority ethnic, LGBT+, and disabled groups of students. However, the lack of awareness of the struggles that Jewish students face on campus is astounding from people who fight so hard for the liberation of other oppressed groups.
For example, the motion for BDS at EUSA last week was co-signed by the leader of the black and minority ethnicity group, but as far as I’m aware the Jewish Society were not consulted on the impacts for their members of BDS, or the wording of the motion.
This is a national issue too. NUS have a number of full-time elected representatives. The current Black Students Officer has been accused a number of times of antisemitic behaviour this year, and the newly elected Disabled Students Officer was elected amongst serious allegations of antisemitism in the Oxford Labour Students Club.
Obviously, I can’t, and don’t want to, speak for all Jewish students, and I myself am not Jewish. There are of course some who feel that Israel doesn’t represent them, and many Jewish supporters of BDS through groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s also important to clarify that I’m not condoning the actions of the Israeli government, and this isn’t a fight between Jews and pro-BDS campaigners.
However, nuances like these are difficult to get across, and Jewish and Israeli students ultimately suffer because of people’s ignorance. After Brianna Sommer, President of the Jewish Society and I had both made our speeches against BDS, a reasonably well-informed friend asked me after the meeting if I was sitting with “all the pro-Israel people” which says a lot about the ignorance surrounding BDS as a whole: This is not a simple pro-Israel vs pro-Palestine case, and it shouldn’t be. This is about protecting the safety of our Jewish and Israeli students on our campuses.
I think it’s clear that we aren’t doing enough for Jewish students, and there is no clear answer of how to fix that. But to me, continuing to campaign against BDS seems like a good start.
Imogen Wilson is Vice President Academic Affairs for Edinburgh University Students’ Association
Anger as Edinburgh University students vote for Israel boycott
By Jessica Weinstein, April 4, 2016
Edinburgh University's Israel Engagement Society (IES) has described a motion to boycott Israel passed by the student union as "irresponsible" and "intolerant".
The motion to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) policy was passed by 249-153 votes with 22 abstentions, giving a majority of 74.
The IES described the result as "a vanishingly small mandate for such a controversial motion that will likely marginalise students of Israeli nationality through an academic, cultural and economic boycott".
The motion was passed at a general meeting of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) last Thursday.
According to a document provided by EUSA, the vote covered 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" and "[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".
The motion also called for an academic boycott of Israel, which Theo Robertson-Bonds, IES vice-chair, described as "even more troubling".
Mr Robertson-Bonds said: “We are incredibly disappointed that our students’ association has decided to ignore the voices of sabbatical officers and the president of the Jewish Society in deciding make BDS policy at EUSA. Given divisions BDS can cause between communities on campus, and the fact that it was passed on a turnout of 1.19% of student electors, it clearly has no mandate, and over next few days we will be working with EUSA trustees, university management and other stakeholders to try and overturn this verdict to single out the world’s only Jewish state.”
IES president Daniel Almeida said: “Such an abstractly worded motion has worrying repercussions that could resonate throughout the Israeli community. I am disappointed most of all that this was not adequately addressed by the proposition.”
Speakers against the motion included Brianna Sommer, the president of the Jewish Society, EUSA Vice President Academic Affairs Imogen Wilson, and Jewish Edinburgh Labour Students and Feminist Society member, Georgie Harris.
Concerns were raised about the legality of the motion by both IES members and representatives of EUSA.
IES president elect Noa Cohen said: “I found the number of people voting outside without having their student cards checked deeply suspicious, and was upset to see that individuals were turning up, voting and leaving without listening to the arguments we had put forward."
Writing for the campus student newspaper after the vote, EUSA vice-president Imogen Wilson said: "The motion delegitimises Israel’s fundamental right to exist by calling it the 'declared State of Israel', an antiSemitic statement by nature. Whatever people believe the aims of BDS to be, that doesn’t change the evidence of it having a negative effect on campus, and the fact that the concerns of many Jewish and Israeli students are being continually ignored."
The policy will apply for three years, following which another vote must be conducted under EUSA’s new regulations.
Imogen Wilson, EUSA’s Vice President of Academic Affairs told the JC: "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."
Last updated: 5:25pm, April 6 2016