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No BDS at QM – for now

This is a guest post by Ron Burgundy

On Tuesday night, Queen Mary’s University Student Council defeated 2 motions brought by PSC, SWP and ‘liberation officers’. The first would have mandated the SU to mark on its website the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, and oppose the occupation of Palestine and the siege of Gaza. This was but a prelude to the main event: a ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ (BDS).  You can see the motions here.

Both motions were solidly defeated by a show of hands, with about three for, and 15 against on each, with quite a few abstentions. The prominent presence of Barts and The London student medics on the Council seems to dampen down its enthusiasm for these things. Apparently, not for want of trying by PSC/SWP activists, most of whom left straight after the motion was defeated – to the evident annoyance of many of their fellow Council members.

There were a few noteworthy aspects of the approach of both sides to the debate.

Unsurprisingly, neither motion has any reference to condemning terror or concern for Israeli civilians, just the usual guff about ‘opposing all forms of racism’. More interestingly, neither has any reference to a 2-state solution. Instead the motion calls for BDS ‘until the human rights of Palestinians are restored’ – but there is no clarity of what these rights are. However, from the ‘notes’ section, which refers to the 5.0m Palestinian refugees as well as a 1948 UN General Assembly resolution calling for the ‘return to their homes’ of all refugees, one can infer that these ‘human rights’ include the ‘right to return’ for Palestinians. The goal is evidently the end of Israel.

The popular memes are interesting to note. The first motion ‘notes’ Cameron’s prison camp statement, and something by Ed M (as well as TUC and FCO). Hostages to fortune? The BDS motion, and the proposer’s speech, referred to ‘stolen Palestinian water’ (perhaps a topic for a future HP post?). A reference to Israeli Apartheid was also made in debate.

As regards those opposing the motion: Representatives from QM’s small JSoc were in attendance but did not speak – they have decided to follow a policy of abstaining from confrontation about Israel. On the one hand, this policy may give the QM nutters less of a target. On the other, it was left to others to mount an uncoordinated defence (though perhaps they would have spoken had no one else done so).

In the event, there was a very emotive speech from a kippah wearing Israeli – who was unable to abide by the chair’s request to ‘avoid personal pronouns’; and a couple of speeches – one from an almost-certainly-not-Jewish Scandinavian – arguing that it was not a fit and proper motion for the SU. He won a laugh by saying ‘This is just total crap’ or words to that effect.

In sum: good on the medics. And an interesting case study about the practicalities of a non-engagement policy by JSocs. The problem is – they’ll be back.