I write this article as a response to last week’s “The Big Debate” piece by Messrs. Saelens, Corn and Jasper.
The Union’s boycott of Israeli goods is and always will be a contentious issue, with compelling arguments and strong feelings on both sides.
As someone who was around at the time of the original referendum (and involved in trying to get it repealed, but more on that in a minute), I’d like to lend my perspective to the issue.
Like I said, I opposed the original referendum, and along with a group of my peers I tried to have it repealed. Our group started as a satirical statement about the Union’s propensity for banning things from campus shops (Coke being the obvious one, and at the time similar bans on tuna and bottled water were also being discussed).
We felt this was a serious infringement on our freedom to choose for ourselves whose political agenda we followed, and we were surprised by just how many people felt the same way.
Realising we actually represented a significant proportion of the student body, we decided to turn words into actions and collected a petition of over 150 signatures calling for the boycott on Israeli goods to be repealed.
The Union’s Constitution at the time decreed that once such a petition was received by the Union, “polling should normally be between 3 and 5 weeks (excluding vacations) of the request being considered”.
Unfortunately for us, this fell smack in the middle of the sabbatical elections when everyone (including ourselves) had better things to do.
Following a discussion with the Union, our referendum was pushed back to week 9 of the spring term.
This was double the length of time allowed by the Constitution, but all parties were in agreement that it was for the best.
The problem arose when halfway through January an emergency meeting of Union Council was held with the purpose of blocking the referendum completely until the following academic year, circumventing the Union’s democratic processes entirely.
A very heated debate was held (the first of many over the following weeks), with the eventual result that the referendum to repeal the boycott was indeed postponed until June 2011.
Unfortunately, most of the people involved in the discussion were in their final or penultimate year of study, so when the time for the referendum finally came about, no one could be found to spend the time putting together a case on either side of the issue, and the referendum never actually happened.
Fast forward to this year, and the boycott is still a controversial issue with passionate supporters and equally passionate opposition.
The referendum to repeal it has been due for nearly two years now, and the fact that the issue has been raised again by a completely unconnected group of people speaks volumes about the strength of opinion on both sides.
In the meantime, as much debate should be held about the boycott as possible – the more people know about it, the more will vote and the more the decision will be truly representative of the student body.
If living under a policy that was decided two and a half years ago, and passed by a majority of just 1% of the student body, is democratic, then I’ve been using an old dictionary. It’s time for change.