Oxford students reject Israel boycott call

Students at the prestigious UK university vote against motion calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions, goods and produce.

February 27, 2013 21:42
3 minute read.
Oxford students vote on motion to boycott Israeli goods

Oxford students vote on motion to boycott Israeli goods 370. (photo credit: courtesy)


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LONDON – A controversial motion calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions, goods and produce at Oxford University was unequivocally defeated by students on Wednesday.

Students at the prestigious university voted against the motion, as reported by The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, at Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU), with 69 votes against, 10 for and 15 abstentions.

The vote failed by a margin of seven to one.

Oxford University’s collegiate system is made up of 38 colleges and six private halls founded by various Christian denominations. Each college has a “junior common room” that votes at the OUSU. The number of votes each college has is determined by the size of the college.

The motion called for the OUSU and National Union of Students to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, known as the BDS movement, against the Jewish state.

We [the OUSU and the NUS] have a moral responsibility to fight injustice,” and demands that Israel “end its occupation of all Arab lands,” read the motion which was proposed by Emily Cousens, a student at Wadham College.

It was originally seconded by Wolfson College student Yulin Zhang, however he pulled out “after reflecting on the issue and not being comfortable with it.” Cousens, a former student at a prestigious private high school in Hampstead, northwest London, and now a member of Oxford Left campaign group, declined to comment on the result of the vote.

The motion also called on the union to “conduct research into higher education institutions’ contacts, relations, investment and commercial relationships that may be implicated in violating Palestinian human rights as stated by the BDS movement.”

The decision was hailed by the Union of Jewish Students who called on students to constructively engage with Israel, its ideas and people, rather than choose to boycott.

“It’s encouraging to see that this vote reflects a student body who are willing to discuss the complexities that exist within Israel and do not see boycotting it as a viable option or avenue to discuss the conflict,” UJS campaigns director Judith Flacks said.

Eylon Aslan-Levy, whom MP George Galloway refused to debate last week on account of him being Israeli, said: “Tonight Oxford students showed that their commitment to intellectual freedom is unshakeable. In rejecting calls for a boycott against Israel, we demonstrated resoundingly that we want Oxford to continue to cooperate with Israeli academics, trade with Israeli businesses and – yes – debate with Israeli debating societies.

“I hope that other British universities will follow Oxford’s lead in standing up against divisive attempts to hinder academic cooperation and progress,” he added.

“Oxford’s students have made it absolutely clear that applying double standards to Israel is wholly unacceptable,” Henry Watson from Magdalen College said. “Oxford’s Student Union emphatically refused to endorse a boycott of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East: it decisively repudiated the BDS movement and its anti-Semitic cheerleaders, by a margin of seven to one.

“There have been strong emotions on either side of this issue,” David J. Townsend, OUSU president said. “A fulsome debate was had, there was ample opportunity for Colleges’ student bodies to decide how to mandate their delegates, and a decisive resolution was achieved by the vote of those delegates today.”

He added: “Despite disagreements, there was in fact some common ground between proponents and opponents of the motion. I hope to see the different opinions come together in a spirit of goodwill to move away from boycotts, which break down relationships between the UK and Israel, and towards coalition-building activities, which build up relationships between progressive Britons, Israelis, Palestinians and others to find a solution to the problem which complies with law, justice and shared human rights. At the end of the day, that’s the result that all good people want to see.”

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