The British National Union of Students that on Tuesday voted to boycott Israel, voted against boycotting Islamic State less than a year ago, which says all there is to say about the BDS movement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
“ISIS tramples human rights to the dust. It burns people alive in cages and the national student groups in Britain refuse to boycott ISIS and have boycotted Israel,” Netanyahu said at the start of a meeting with new Canadian Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson.
At the same time, he said, in the UN, Turkey and Iran voted in favor of recognizing as an NGO a group linked to Hamas
which fires missiles on Israeli cities, while hiding behind civilians. “It tells you about international hypocrisy a lot,” he said.
Netanyahu said he was stressing these points to underline Ottawa’s strong and clear opposition to “these distortions of truth and distortions of justice.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also slammed the British student union’s decision, saying during her meeting with Nicholson that the BDS issue is a “very important issue” for Israeli foreign policy.
“We will do everything we can to wipe out this phenomena, and as such we request your support in this important struggle,” she told the Canadian foreign minister.
The UK’s National Union of Students executive passed a resolution aligning all British students with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. The motion has since been condemned by Jewish student and communal leaders, a British government official in Tel Aviv, and the board of Universities UK.
A statement from Universities UK, the representative organization of the UK’s universities with 133 members, said that it is “committed to the free exchange of ideas between universities and between academics, regardless of nationality or location.
The board therefore firmly opposes academic boycotts on the basis that they are inimical to academic freedom, including the freedom of academics to collaborate with other academics.”
The statement said the board “also confirms its view that all universities must uphold, in the interests of free expression of ideas, the fundamental right of academics to question national and international policies.”
Britain’s National Union of Students – which claims to represent some seven million students at around 600 higher educational establishments – was due to have debated the controversial resolution titled “Justice for Palestinians” at the NUS annual conference in April, but the vote had to be postponed due to lack of time and the students union executive council was instead asked to consider it at a future meeting.
In a secret ballot at its meeting in London on Tuesday, the council passed the resolution with 19 voting in favor, 14 against and one member abstaining. As a result the NUS has now officially affiliated to the BDS movement. Last August, during the Gaza conflict, it debated and passed a motion calling for a boycott of Israel.
One of the NUS officers who opposed the vote, Vice President Joe Vinson, tweeted later that anti-Semitism is like a virus, it mutates and infects everything it touches, it has mutated into BDS and the NUS is infected.
The Union of Jewish Students – which has a membership of about 8,500 – was quick to condemn the NUS decision but pointed out that the motion was not new. One official explained that the vote was largely symbolic as it failed to mandate the student unions at each of the different universities to implement it.
A UJS spokesman later explained that the boycott resolution ostracizes Jewish and Israeli students on campus who identify with Israel, Jewish societies have been threatened with being banned because they are incompatible with BDS policies, and Israeli individuals and academics have been blocked from delivering lectures even when the subject matter is unrelated to Israel.
In recent weeks, Jewish students on 10 campuses collected more than 2,000 signatures in support of a two-state solution and against BDS, but this initiative was ignored by the NUS.
British government reaction against the move came swiftly, with Rob Dixon, the UK’s deputy ambassador in Tel Aviv making clear that the British government firmly opposes calls to boycott Israel and is deeply committed to promoting the trade and business ties with Israel, as part the flourishing partnership between the two countries.
“The reality is one of rapidly strengthening links between British and Israeli universities in science and academic cooperation,” Dixon said in a statement. “As David Cameron has said, the UK government will never allow those who want to boycott Israel to shut down 60 years’ worth of vibrant exchange and partnership that does so much to make both our countries stronger.”
Simon Johnson, the Jewish Leadership Council’s chief executive, noted that of the hundreds of academic institutions in the UK, barely more than a dozen have any form of BDS policy, those that exist are quickly overturned or limited, and more than 90 percent of Jewish students attend universities with neutral or positive policies regarding Israel, where many also have active ties with Israeli colleagues and companies.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, who is scheduled to visit London later this month, called on the British government to condemn the move which he said only serves to stir up hatred and which undermines any hope for diplomatic progress.
“The decision by the NUS to join the BDS movement is hypocritical and one-sided, it fails to even mention terrorism and the firing of rockets against Israel. How can an organization which refuses to condemn the brutal terrorists of ISIS but calls for a boycott of Israel be taken seriously?” he asked.
He added that during his visit to the UK he intends to raise the issue with the government and leading opinion leaders. “Yesh Atid sees the fight against attempts to boycott Israel as a top priority in the international arena,” Lapid said.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of a major European cellphone company said on Wednesday that he would gladly cut ties with Israel “tomorrow” if it wasn’t financially prohibitive.
French telecom operator Orange chairman and CEO Stephane Richard told reporters in Cairo that his company wished to distance itself from its role in facilitating Israel’s rule over the Palestinian territories.
Orange, which has an affiliate agreement with the Israeli firm Partner, is one of Israel’s largest cellular service providers.
Human rights organizations in France have been pressuring Orange to cease its business operations in Israel in protest of Jerusalem’s policies in the West Bank.
“Believe me I would cancel the contract tomorrow if I could,” Richard said. His comments were reported by the Daily News Egypt.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.