The Students’ Union has announced this week that a referendum on the boycotting of Israeli goods on campus will go ahead in week seven of the summer term.
To some people the fact that we are being asked to vote on this now might seem odd – after all, Sussex students already voted in favour of an Israeli goods boycott way back in October 2009, with 562 votes in favour and 450 against.
However, after the initial boycott was agreed on, accusations of unfair conduct ensued, and the ‘Ban Everything’ society (BanSoc) successfully petitioned for another referendum to settle the question once and for all.
The boycott was originally proposed as part of a wider multinational call for ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ against Israel, with the goal of ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Sussex was the first university to implement a boycott in 2009; since then Edinburgh University and Brighton University have also announced boycotts.
Since January 2010 when the decision was made to hold a new referendum, the voting has been deferred time and time again to make space for other union events such as the election of union officers and a referendum on the union’s constitution – it was claimed that the boycott debate would engulf these other important issues.
Unfortunately, due to the timing and other factors such as a diminished and less vocal opposition, there is unlikely to be the same level of debate this time.
Martha Baker from the ‘Friends of Palestine’ society at Sussex has said that there is “a necessity for us as students of conscience to take a stand against the oppressive Israeli state”. Communications Officer Sol Schonfield also supported the boycott, stating that “the students have direct democratic control over what is for sale in shops and bars, which gives us full responsibility.
No-one is stopping students from purchasing Israeli goods outside of campus, but I think that union shops should not gain from the sale of goods from countries breaking international law”.
Kevin Szmir, former president of the Jewish Society, commented that “a boycott will not bring any good to the current situation… it will only push the two nations further apart”.
He also called the negative atmosphere on campus first time around “a real shame”. Anti-boycott campaigners, focussing around the group ‘Ban Everything,’ petitioned for another referendum on the grounds that the first was marred by “poor publicity… and allegations of intimidating behaviour by campaigners”.
BanSoc have said that they oppose a boycott because “the morality of individual groups should not be forced upon the majority… people have the right to choose, let’s not let a small number of vocal students dictate to us what is right or wrong”.
They have stated that they are against not only this particular boycott but all institutional bans and boycotts.
After years of failed negotiations with Israel, Palestine has recently changed tactics and is now asking the UN to formally recognise its statehood, the results of which will likely be seen over the next few months.