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UK Black Students' Society Votes for Israel Boycott

Black Students' Campaign accepts radical motion opposing Israel's existence, amid claims of an Islamist takeover.
By Colin Cortbus and Ari Soffer
First Publish: 5/20/2014, 9:01 PM

(Illustration) Student union groups at anti-Israel protest
(Illustration) Student union groups at anti-Israel protest
nOren Teichman

A UK student conference claiming to represent over "one million students" has voted "overwhelmingly" for a radical BDS Motion which condemns the very existence of the State of Israel.

The "Black Students’ Campaign" (BSC), which is claims to represent Asian, Caribbean, African and other ethnic minority students, voted for the policy at its conference in Coventry, near Birmingham, over the weekend. The BSC is a self-governing sub-section of the National Union of Students, which represents the majority of Student Unions in the UK.

The official text of the motion (Motion 402), which was submitted by Bradford Students’ Union, commits the BSC to lobby for an "academic boycott of Israeli Universities", to "support the annual Israeli Apartheid Week initiative", and advocates for divestment from "key BDS target companies, including G4S, Veolia and Eden Springs". The motion also states that "Israeli expansion on Palestinian land" is "a settler-colonial project, predicated on the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of its indigenous people".

The pro-Hamas Middle East Monitor website quotes the outgoing leader of the BSC, Aaron Kiely, as saying that the motion passed “overwhelmingly”.

"66-year occupation"

Although proponents of BDS - including many of those at the conference - often argue these that their cause is not anti-Semitic but simply about "defending’ human rights" in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the motion passed by this conference left no doubt that it is the existence of the Jewish and democratic state itself, rather than real or imagined human rights violations in the territories, that is under attack by BDS. 

This is vividly clear, as the motion text slams "the ongoing 66-year long occupation of Palestine" - referring to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, not just events since 1967. It is the very existence of Israel - the self-organisation of Jews into any meaningful state - that is labelled an "occupation" and singled out for attack, effectively termed a human rights violation. The words "West Bank" or "Gaza" are not even mentioned a single time in the motion.

The move highlights why many Israelis approach the claim that a "Land for Peace" formula would placate radical anti-Israel campaigners in Europe with a great deal of skepticism.

But the vote also came on the heals of a landmark vote by the National Union of Students itself, in which the union's National Executive Council rejected a motion calling for a boycott of Israel, warning that it could lead to a "BDS agenda", according to the Jewish Chronicle.

The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) praised the “sensible and articulate conversations between Jewish students and the NUS National Executive Council leadership" which it said led to the vote's "positive outcome".

"We hope to see many more years of educated and sensitive decisions made by the NUS leadership. Boycotts, bigotry and hate have no place in this movement – not now, not ever," said UJS campaigns director Maggie Suissa.

Hijacked by far-left, Islamist extremists?

Britain's Zionist Federation condemned the motion as an illustration of how extremist anti-Israel groups were promoting their agendas by hijacking mainstream groups.

"Any blanket endorsement of BDS is both deeply worrying and discriminatory," said ZF Director Alan Aziz. "It is particularly troubling that the NUS black students’ conference has endorsed such a motion, suggesting that the poisonous narrative of ‘white’ Jewish settlers versus ‘black’ indigenous Arabs has been uncritically accepted."

"As ever, these groups would be better placed concentrating on the domestic issues they were founded to address – but if they are really interested in this subject, then they should visit Israel for themselves, and see first hand the most multi-cultural state in the Middle East, and the only one that actively seeks to empower and protect its minorities, rather than keeping them in a perpetual state of fear and marginalization," he added.

And a senior source within the BSC, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arutz Sheva that the anti-Israel vote highlighted the rising influence of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) at the conference. The source said that at the conference over the weekend "Fosis were well organised and made sure they had a majority of their members elected".

The source also confirmed the BDS motion was passed without any amendments to its text.

FOSIS - which was founded in 1963 by supporters of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami organizations - has repeatedly faced criticism over its links to violent extremism.

In its 2011 report, the UK government's anti-radicalization strategy PREVENT stated that "FOSIS has not always fully challenged terrorist and extremist ideology within the higher and further education sectors".

In 2013, UK-based counterextremism group Stand For Peace went further, saying FOSIS "seems not only to tolerate extremism, but to actively promote it".

It cited a long list of speakers hosted at FOSIS events linked to Islamist groups including Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda.

One name which stands out is Anwar al-Awlaki, a notorious Al Qaeda recruiter who was killed in Yemen in a US drone strike described by President Barack Obama as "a major blow to Al Qaeda". In 2003, FOSIS hosted al-Awlaki to address its annual conference, describing him as a "distinguished guest".

But even beyond the shadowy involvement of Islamist groups, Kiely, who is also a councillor for the left-wing Labour Party, has a long history of extremist views himself - for example his opposition to the extradition of Al Qaeda terrorist Abu Hamza, who was convicted for serious terrorism offenses yesterday by an American court, to the US.

In January he labelled Stalin-era soviet propaganda posters as "amazing", and more recently he described the controversial Sinn Fein Party, the former political wing of the terrorist Irish Republican Army, as a "political party that champions equality, peace and justice". Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was this month arrested and questioned in connection with the notorious sectarian 1972 murder of the mother-of-10 children Jean McConville. Adams vehemently denies any connection with the crime and also denies vehemently being a member of the IRA, and was later released.

Earlier this year Kiely signed a statement published in the left-wing Morning Star newspaper that condemned "violence and destabilisation unleashed in April by sections of the Venezuela’s right-wing opposition", blaming it for deaths and "sabotage", despite the fact that both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have slammed the severe human rights violations by the regime of autocrat Nicolas Maduro.

The passing of such an extreme anti-Israel motion is not the first time questions has been raised over extremism and discrimination at a BSC conference either.

In 2013 a mixed-race female delegate to the Black Students Campaign conference from the London School of Economics, Samantha Jury-Dada, alleged that she had been the victim of racism and sexism at the conference.

"I cannot believe I was a victim of racism at a Black Students conference, the one place you would expect to feel safe. I was not the only one either," she wrote afterwards, and also lambasted the "appalling anti-white rhetoric" that she alleged was being used at the conference.