A motion calling on the Student Union to adopt a policy of BDS was passed at City, University of London, on Thursday evening. This was the third time in 15 months that such a motion has been proposed and the second time it has passed. On the other occasion, the proposers pulled the motion before it was debated due to obvious lack of support.
A British Student Union works in the same way as a workplace union. It campaigns for the rights of its members, representing the students to the university and lobbying on key issues. It also provides social and welfare services to students and is the umbrella body for student societies. All students at a university are automatically members of the Student Union, and it holds an annual meeting, at which policies are debated.
City has an active contingent of Jewish students, many of whom were present at the Student Members’ Meeting, which stood in place of an AGM (Annual General Meeting). The motion, the final one of the evening, was proposed by Shaima Dallali, President of City Palestinian Society, and seconded by Abdurrahman Tamimi. Describing BDS as “a vibrant global movement” it calls on the Union to “work with the University to divest itself from the illegal actions of the Israeli government such as illegal settlements” on the basis that using University resource in this way is “unethical” and “detrimental to the interests and welfare of students”. Though Ms. Dallali professed her concern about the welfare of students, she ironically can clearly be seen in the recordings of the protests aimed at preventing students from attending or hearing Dan Meridor’s speech at King’s College, earlier this week.
Around 150 students were present at the meeting, which passed other motions including a university-wide policy for late submission of work, a program to reduce sugar consumption on campus and scheduling Friday lectures to ensure that there is a “Happy Hour” in the middle of the day to enable the large number of Muslim students and staff to attend communal prayers. None of these proposals were very controversial and the mood was generally light. However, when the BDS motion was proposed, the atmosphere became tense and fraught glances were exchanged between different groups of students.
There were two speeches in favor of the motion, followed by numerous questions, from both Jews and non-Jews, challenging the premise of the motion. The president of the Israeli Society Eliana Friend, and of the Jewish Society, Abby Frohwein, both spoke, opposing the motion. Ms. Friend called on students to build bridges and increase dialogue on campus.
When the motion went to public vote, it was apparent that some people were photographing the proceedings, to record who had voted and how. This was obviously rather intimidating, and some people said afterwards that they had felt too nervous to vote against the motion, potentially becoming a target for future harassment. Despite this, the motion passed, although not by a huge majority. (The exact numbers will not be released until the minutes of the meeting are published next week.)
Abby Frohwein, President of City and Cass Jewish Society, told Hamodia, “This motion effectively shuts down productive debate, one of the key features of university life. BDS does not offer a constructive way forward and we are very disappointed that the motion passed after we offered alternatives and ways of working together, rather than working against each other. The Jewish Society will continue to support the vibrant Jewish life of City students, whilst working with the University, Union of Jewish Students and University Jewish Chaplaincy to attempt to overturn the policy.”
Whilst this is mainly a political victory, a BDS policy can potentially have practical impacts on Jewish student life. For example, societies would not be able to purchase Israeli fruit and vegetables or some kosher products manufactured in Israel to serve at society events. Contacts with Israeli academics could be limited and the range of speakers available for student society events might be restricted. However, the main and most disturbing effect is to create a climate of exclusion for Jewish students studying at the University.