Debate over Oxford support for NUS BDS Israel sanctions

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A motion has been brought to OUSU Council proposing that Oxford’s delegates to the NUS Conference will vote against any motion aligning the NUS with the BDS (Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions) movement against Israel.

The proposed motion states that the BDS movement “includes a commitment to a full academic and cultural boycott of Israel” which “indiscriminately targets all Israelis regardless of their political position, rather than targeting action against those involved in the illegal occupation of the West Bank”.

The motion was proposed by Lincoln student Ben Goldstein, and seconded by Magdalen student Adam Dayan.

Goldstein and Dayan commented: “After extensive consultation with JCRs and MCRs, Oxford said a resounding no to BDS in 2013, voting it down 69-10 in OUSU Council.

“It is thus quite surprising that a number of our NUS delegates, who were elected unopposed, would decide to ride roughshod over that democratic decision and impose their own radical anti-Israel politics on the rest of Oxford. BDS is a deeply unpleasant movement that rejects the two state solution, the only internationally-supported plan for peace. BDS is so extreme that many Palestinians reject it, including the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

“The Occupation is a blot on Israel’s record but BDS is not the right way to fight it. Don’t let our NUS delegates misrepresent our views and align the NUS and Oxford with a highly-politicised fringe movement.”

In addition to the main proposal, a further amendment will be debated proposing that the delegates instead abstain from voting on motions concerning BDS.

Nick Cooper, who proposed the amendment, said: “I know that discussion around BDS is often contentious, and wanted to offer students in Common Rooms an option other than sending the delegates to Conference all voting against any potential BDS motion, or leaving the delegates to vote as they personally wish.

“I will be voting for the amendment because I believe binding the delegates this way better reflects the range of views of Oxford students they represent, but that an abstention on BDS at Conference avoids undue tension and is more appropriate and representative than a forced vote against.”

There will be five NUS delegates from OUSU Council representing the student body of Oxford University at the next NUS Conference, to be held in April.

Although the full agenda for the meeting has not yet been announced, it is anticipated that there will be a motion about whether the NUS will align with the BDS movement.

The issues around BDS have also been heavily debated in JCR meetings, with the Somerville discussion on this matter described as “over 90 minutes of extensive debate, heated tempers, and moving round, and around, and around in circles” by their JCR Secretary. A similar meeting held by Balliol JCR lasted over three hours.

These discussions have been further complicated by considerations over the exact position of NUS with regards to the BDS movement, with some students pointing out that the NUS does not currently subscribe to the most radical version of the movement.

The complexities of the motion and the relationship between JCR representatives, OUSU Council, and NUS delegates has also been criticised by some students as overly opaque.

John Paul, a first-year student at St Peter’s, described how: “The intention of the motion in the St Peter’s JCR General Meeting to mandate our delegates to OUSU was lost in a debate on the internal politics of OUSU in general.

“Those present were caught up in issues further up the democratic hierarchy, possibly due to the ease in which the OUSU motion (and therefore JCR motions relating to that motion) can be misconstrued by those outside the union, as well as the convoluted and opaque nature of the current system”.

As students in St Peter’s JCR were voting on the motion, following half an hour of discussion, one student was heard to say: “does anyone even know what we’re voting for?”.

The Oxford Palestine Society and Oxford University Arab Cultural Society did not respond to requests for comment.