Controversy as NUS affiliates with anti-Israeli BDS movement

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The NUS has voted for the first time to affiliate officially with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Previously, they had expressed support for the strategy but not affiliated to the official movement.

In a meeting of the NUS’s National Executive Committee last week, a BDS amendment to a motion entitled ‘Justice for Palestine’ was passed 19-15, with one abstention. The motion included resolutions to lobby companies with investments in Israel and to assist student-led BDS campaigns.

The BDS movement operates on a global basis and aims to pressure Israel into agreeing to change its policy on Palestine. Key demands of the BDS movement include the end to occupation of Palestinian lands, equal citizenship rights for Arab-Palestinians and the right of Palestinians to return to their original homes according to UN resolution 194. On its website, the movement describes itself as ‘a strategy that allows people of conscience to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice’.

The motion was originally due to be considered at the NUS National Conference in April, but was postponed due to a lack of debating time at the conference itself. At a meeting of OUSU Council in March, a motion to mandate Oxford’s NUS conference delegates not to vote against any anti-BDS motion failed by a margin of 72-30, with 28 abstentions. This would have meant that Oxford’s delegates would have been able to vote as they chose had the issue come before NUS conference.

James Elliott, Oxford delegate at the NUS Disabled Students’ Conference, has come under fire for voting in favour of BDS on the National Executive Committee. Ben Goldstein, who proposed the motion at OUSU Council in March, told Cherwell, “BDS hurts efforts for a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict – the two-state solution is the only internationally-recognised peace plan yet leaders of the BDS movement have called for a one state solution and ‘euthanasia’ of Israel. BDS is an obstacle to peace.

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“Additionally, motion 518a highlights the duplicity of BDS activists. BDS was voted in by the NUS NEC, which is made up of a mere 30 members, as opposed to gaining a proper democratic mandate at NUS National Conference. In Oxford, BDS activists have also misrepresented the truth. Consistently, we were told that any BDS motion that comes up at NUS would be of a limited and moderate nature.

“James Elliott told a Somerville JCR meeting that ‘a blanket BDS motion can’t come up at NUS Conference’, claiming the ‘only debate on NUS policy would be on the current policy’.

Yet, at NEC he voted for a motion that affiliates our national student union with the official BDS Movement – a radical organisation, calling for precisely the ‘blanket BDS’ that many Oxford students had serious concerns with.”

James Elliott defended his stance to Cherwell, saying, “I am accountable to students at NUS Disabled Students Conference, and nowhere else, and at NEC I voted in line with my campaign’s policy as mandated, which is in favour of BDS. If a few grumbling individuals in Oxford have an issue with that, then it doesn’t bother me.

“I have always been very public about my support for BDS, and I was delighted that NUS took this further step in strengthening our policy and challenging Israeli apartheid.

“If anyone wants to get involved in NUS campaigns like this, they should of course get in touch.” 

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