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On Wednesday 28th of October the University of Sussex Student Union voted in line with the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS to boycott Israel. The movement calls upon Israel to respect international law and end the occupation of Palestine.
The referendum result mandates the Students’ Union to remove all Israeli produce from its stores, and review its sources for food outlets. The vote was one of the largest and most closely-contested in the Union’s history, with 562 voting in favour of the boycott and 450 voting against it.
The debate over the boycott was often tense, with the Friends of Palestine Society leading the ‘Yes’ campaign, and the ‘No’ campaign running under the slogan ‘Build Bridges Not Boycotts’. Martha Baker, a member of Palestine Society and speaker at one of the events, said that the biggest challenge for the pro-Boycott team was not, however, the pro-Israeli campaigners.
Baker commented: “Our biggest challenge was ignorance: most students are not aware of the situation facing Palestinians living under occupation. The more we spoke to people, the more they understood the reasons for boycotting Israel.”
Yasmin Khan, Senior Campaigns Officer at UK charity War On Want added: “Palestinians have suffered under the Israeli repression for 61 years, during which time governments all over the world have allowed Israel to act with impunity. It is time for this to change. The Boycott movement could be just the thing to finally bring justice to Palestine.”
Palestine Society member Bushra Khalidi says that the society will now focus its efforts on gaining scholarships for Palestinian students, and lobbying the Union to sell Palestinian West Bank produce.
Sussex becomes the latest student UK union to vote to boycott Israel, the University of Manchester Student Union and the University of Essex Student Union both voted for a boycott in March of this year, several other student unions in the UK have taken similar steps in recent years. The Right to Education campaign sees these boycotts as a symbol of solidarity with Palestinian students and a positive step towards securing academic freedom for Palestinians by highlighting the ongoing injustice of the Israeli occupation.
The imposition of immediate boycott, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel is one of the strongest ways to register criticism and delegitimize the actions and policies of the Israeli government towards Palestinians. In particular, Israel’s siege on Gaza and their refusal to permit Gazans the basic equipment and supplies necessary for universally-acceptable living standards highlights the Israeli government’s flagrant disregard for human rights and international law.
As such, the methods of boycott, divestment and sanctions remain vital tools of activism until Israel abides by international human rights and humanitarian laws, dismantles its apartheid regime spanning both the occupied territories and Israel proper, and commits to pursuing a long-lasting, just solution.