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.



  1. RogueHedonist .

    March 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    This is appalling, I cannot believe students who study at KCL behaved like that. Areeb Ullah needs to step down, he has made distasteful remarks and comes across as an intimidating bully. He has dishonoured his office and if he has any personal integrity and ethics left in him, he’d resign. I hope King’s principal Sir Richard Trainor and Kclsu Ceo Mo Wiltshire ensure that hooligans don’t remain in positions of power within the student union.

    It is not uncommon for such violence to occur in the global arena, I do believe that students must get involved in finding a solution to such violence and problems in general. But, dictating who and where King’s must do business with is not in the hands of the students.

    My heart goes out to the Israeli’s and Jews who were present there, a college ought to be a place where people from all backgrounds feel welcomed, irrespective of belief’s, they ought to be treated fairly and equally. Find other avenues to ‘free palestine’.

    Polling ended with only 2.4% of the total number of students currently at KCL voting, this is not a legitimate representation of King’s views, the SU have failed in getting more students to vote, I sincerely hope this motion is Vetoed by the KCLSU trustees board. God forgive the anti-semitic, ‘liberal’ fascists.

    • bocaj

      March 26, 2014 at 8:26 am

      Find it hypocritical how one sabbatical officer is branded a hero for taking one side of the debate and the other an enemy and brute. Are people not entitled to have their own opinion? The article rightly states that their opinions were articulated within their own personal capacity. Not sure how that’s intimidating or being bullish. Secondly if you want to discredit the validity of the vote based on the voter margin then I suggest you question the voter margin for other motions on contentious issues like remembrance day and even the officer elections. Students voluntarily decided to either proxy or come to the meeting yesterday. That should be celebrated. Furthermore its important to note that this motion was moved from a standard student council meeting to a SGM to ensure more students were able to vote on that. Bravo for the motion proposers in making that bold move.

      • RogueHedonist .

        March 26, 2014 at 11:57 pm

        Where did I brand anyone a hero? Yelling shame on you is humiliating and intimidating irrespective of whether it was done in official capacity or personal capacity. And in many cases it is impossible to distinguish the two, its unbecoming of the VP to behave in such a way, and if it was of no consequence, the CEO of the SU wouldn’t have brought it up. I repeatedly watched his speech and found no great clarity of thought.

        In my point where I commented about the validity of the vote, I also clearly mention that the SU ought to do more to get students involved. The SU is partly to be blamed for poor turnout, I propose electronic voting, the link to which can be mailed to all students studying at kings one vote for each king’s id, this makes the whole process easier and more accessible to all. I’m sure the voter turnout would be manifold.

    • bocaj

      March 26, 2014 at 8:30 am

      I also wanted to pick up on the point that students shouldn’t have a say in who their institution does business with. If that’s the logic you want to table then I suggest we not comment on the how our cleaners are paid or the fact that we employ a security company that states the female receptionists must wear skirts and pearls as part of their uniform.

  2. Sharon Elizabeth Alsoodani

    March 26, 2014 at 12:29 am

    “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” shows what these students’ agenda really is. From this, it seems the BDS supporters at KCL were not calling for a solution in which the interests of both sides are met and which the majority of Israelis and Palestinians themselves support, they were calling for a win-lose, zero-sum outcome. If they were really calling for International Law to be respected in an immediate two-state solution, they wouldn’t be chanting such things and behaving in such an aggressive way, they let themselves and their (supposed) cause down.

    • bocaj

      March 26, 2014 at 8:09 am

      No. The chant “From the river to the sea” does not imply a one state or any state solution. Israel does technically control land from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea, and the chant is in solidarity with Palestinians who have their rights denied in the west bank which is under the illegal occupation to being openly discriminated against in Israel via the structures put in place to privilege the Jewish population over the indigenous Palestinian population. Secondly to use that to ineffectively malign and tarnish what BDS stands for is objectionable. BDS calls for three demands. Three demands that are enshrined under international law.BDS merely calls for a level of accountability in enacting that. It doesn’t have a stateist approach. If that’s anti Semitic and harmful to the safe space of Jewish students then I kindly request you take this issue up with the UN. And the students who were voting yes were not acting in an aggressive way at all. They have kept their online and offline campaign civil and were respectful of the students and did not at any point heckle or jeer at people speaking against the motion, which is what we witnessed yesterday. In my eyes, it made me proud to be at KCL where we enacted the inalienable right of discussing and debating in a civil manner. That did justice to both the yes and no camp.

  3. Kamil Mahmood

    March 26, 2014 at 5:39 am

    I’m pretty sure I was at this event. I can’t tell if me and the writer of this article were sitting in the same room for 3 hours. I felt there was a great atmosphere in the room with a healthy display of passion from both sides. The writer of this article is clearly projecting their own biased anti BDS perceptions. Quotes have not been contextualised; i recall Areeb’s ‘shame on you’ comment was referring to the proposed apathy we as student should feel with regards to this humanitarian issue despite KCL investing in companies such as G4S. I mean what power could we as students have in changing apartheid regime? Why waste the kclsu’s time when there are more pressing matters such as the cost of double sided printing and snake bite. Shame on us.
    Shruti has also been misquoted. Her speech was inspiring and truly danced on the room’s forgotten conscience. She said something along the lines of asking us what we would tell our children about what we did for the movement against oppression and rightly so.

    If we want to talk about feelings of hostility please offer a more balanced and more importantly accurate description of the debate. I specifically remember an anti-BDS spectator interrupting and badgering a speaker. I also remember an anti-BDS speaker pretty much shouting quite rudely at the room for the whole 1 minute 30. AND I specifically remember it was the israeli flag that was displayed before the palestinian one. Talks of tears and upset individuals has no place in this article as there would have been an equal ,if not greater, amount on the opposite side had the vote gone the other way.

  4. bocaj

    March 26, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Here’s a question that should be asked. If the no side really cared about how the union is run and feels the SU should focus on more welfare related issues why did they not stay till the very end of the SGM like the other side did? Curious to see that fact being reported in the above article.

    • rachel

      March 26, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      especially relevant as the last part of the sgm was for the welfare and community zone.

  5. Sharon Elizabeth Alsoodani

    March 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Norman Finklestein has some good points to answer bocaj’s response here:

  6. King's Student

    March 26, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    There were a few disappointments following the passing of the motion, but I have to say this article tops them all.

    To focus on just one point: you mention that “only 2.4% of King’s’ 25,000-strong student population voted on the motion,” the implication being that the validity of the vote should be called into question. I call on you to be fair and either call into question the validity of every other motion that was passed in the meeting, or to impartially accept this one along with the others.

    On the same point, if the stance to endorse BDS is being considered unrepresentative of the wider student population, then, according to the conventions of a democratic vote, you must concede that the stance to not endorse BDS is considerably less representative. The vote was won by a clear margin.

  7. King's Student

    March 26, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    There were a few disappointments following the passing of the motion, but I have to say this article tops them all.

    To focus on just one point: you mention that “only 2.4% of King’s’ 25,000-strong student population voted on the motion,” the implication being that the validity of the vote should be called into question. I call on you to be fair and either call into question the validity of every other motion that was passed in the meeting, or to impartially accept this one along with the others.

    On the same point, if the stance to endorse BDS is being considered unrepresentative of the wider student population, then surely, according to the conventions of a democratic vote, you must concede that the stance to not endorse BDS is considerably less representative. The vote was won by a clear margin.

  8. peter b

    March 26, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    “The right wing says you can’t talk to [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas. Maybe without the ruckus of the tractors building settlements you could hear him better?”

  9. Sara Abbas

    March 26, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    May I ask why Roar! has chosen these specific photographs?? As an attendee at the SGM, I feel that the juxtaposition of this two images presents a skewed picture of the event. Those who attended saw an earnest and heartfelt speech by Areeb in favour of the BDS motion, urging us to take a stance and reminding us that without this motion, we are complicit in any contracts with firms that operate in the illegally occupied territories of Palestine. Within the context of several heated rounds of impassioned speakers, talk of human rights, the UN, anti-semitism (with one particularly angry anti-BDS speaker brandishing the pro-BDS students as racists and telling us to all leave the room as it was named after Edmond J Safra who was Jewish), and one or two state solutions, Areeb’s speech was relatively calm. Taking context into account, I’m left wondering why there is such a contrast between the pictures used to portray the different sides. Had I not attended the SGM, the choice of pictures here would convey to me that the ‘against’ side was altogether very calm, collected, more reasoned and peaceful. In contrast, having seen the unfortunate choice of picture used of Areeb making a passionate plea, I would believe the ‘for’ side to be emotional, irrational, angry, aggravating and not peaceful. Not only does this conveniently fit the narrative used against Areeb as being an ‘intimidating bully’ (see comment below this article on Roar’s facebook), but I believe it perpetuates the trope of the ‘angry Muslim male’. The pro-BDS motion side had a range of speakers from a variety of backgrounds, all of whom the photographer captured. It is dangerous and reckless to single out this image to represent the for-BDS side. Would it not have been more appropriate and tactful (given the existing controversy surrounding this motion) to use pictures of two equally impassioned speakers? or two equally calm speakers? There were plenty of opportunities to photograph Areeb speaking calmly, btw. Overall, I find this piece biased in its content but i’m particularly disappointed in the student press for presenting such an inaccurate account of the night through the choice of images, as in doing so Roar fails to inform its readers with the impartiality and accuracy that our students deserve.

  10. joeyayoub

    March 26, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    There are no ‘disputed’ territories. All settlements are on occupied territory under international law. The only ones who use the word ‘disputed’ are those apologists whose end goal is to eradicate Palestine.

  11. AMartin123

    March 30, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    There are…

    …over 2 billion Christians

    …over 1.5 billion Muslims

    …nearly 1 billion Hindus.

    And all people can do is obsess over 14 million Jews and their tiny sliver of a home land?

  12. AMartin123

    March 30, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    The Palestinians were offered a state in 1948…same as the Jews…but they turned it down. And instead of building up their own state, they’ve been trying to destroy the Jewish one.

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