Controversial BDS motion passes at heated Student General Meeting

L-R: Hannah Brady and Areeb Ullah

STUDENTS have voted in favour of the controversial BDS motion at the Student General Meeting tonight with 348 votes for and 252 against.

The motion, which supports a global campaign to put non-violent pressure on Israel over disputed Palestine territories, passed during a heated and emotional evening in which many student issues were discussed.

The mood in the Edmond J. Safra theatre was tense, with KCLSU President Sebastiaan Debrouwere repeatedly reminding the room of the Students’ Union safe space policy.

The Students’ Union President spoke against the motion and Vice President Areeb Ullah spoke for the motion, both in their personal capacities.

Sebastiaan said: “I don’t believe that running the risk of alienating a large number of students … I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”

Shruti Iyer, who has just been elected as president of the Intersectional Feminist Society for next year, spoke in favour of the motion: “What are you going to tell your children when they ask you why you did not vote for boycotting Israeli goods and services?”

The BDS motion was originally intended to go to Student Council late last year, but it was cancelled after it clashed with Jewish holidays.

Areeb Ullah, KCLSU’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, spoke in favour of the motion: “We don’t live in a bubble, we live in the world, a world of oppression.”

After the motion passed, Israeli and Palestinian flags were brought out, and pro BDS supporters chanted “free, free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

2.4% turnout

Mo Wilsthire, CEO of KCLSU, stopped the chanting by reminding students again of safe space policy, and asking them not to behave in a way that would intimidate other students.

Nik Jovcic-Sas, Interfaith Officer on Student Council, spoke in favour of the motion but also said this after it had passed: “I’d just like to say that I was appalled by the reaction of some students to the passing of the BDS motion – what happened was both disrespectful and intimidating, and though it was a hard fought and won campaign, there is such a thing as a bad winner.”

The motion will now be sent to review by the KCLSU Trustee Board, where it’s unclear whether it will be vetoed.

Only 2.4% of the King’s’ 25,000-strong student population voted on the motion.

‘Bitterly divided and polarised’

Henrique Laitenberger, an NUS Delegate on Student Council, condemned the motion and the actions of its supporters: “Many of the concerns raised by opponents of the motion were vindicated tonight: it is unacceptable for a KCLSU Vice President to shout spitefully “Shame on you!” towards students doubting the political capacity of KCLSU to act in a non-student political capacity.

He added: “Students he supposedly represents. There is also little need to point to the tastelessness of the rampant jubilations of proponents of the motion in the face of Jewish and Israeli students reduced to tears. Tonight has seen a student community at King’s College London left bitterly divided and polarised. This is not an achievement to pride itself with. Tonight has likely created wounds that are not going to heal for a while.”

Students’ Unions at the University of the West of England, Sheffield University and the National University of Ireland have also passed motions at various times supporting BDS. The University of London Union did the same in 2011.

KCLSU are yet to comment.

King’s College was unavailable for comment at the time of publishing.


What is BDS?

‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ is a global campaign that aims to put non-violent pressure on Israel over the issue of Israel’s occupation of disputed Palestinian territories.

Started in 2005, the movement aims to apply this pressure in order to force Israel to meet certain obligations under international law. It has attracted support from KCL alumni Peter Higgs and Desmond Tutu, among other figures.

Tonight the Student General Meeting of KCLSU has voted to follow other Students’ Unions, such as Sheffield University SU and UWE SU, in aligning with the campaign.

This will involve investigating KCL investments, partnerships and contracts, and putting pressure on the College to divest from any companies or institutions involved with Israel’s occupation of disputed territories.

A similar BDS motion was passed by KCLSU in the 1980s, which was called for by South Africans fighting against racism and apartheid. The motion will now be passed on for approval by the KCLSU Trustee Board.