On BDS: ‘Not all Jewish people are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish’

Shanice McBean speaking at last night's SGM. Photo credit: Dulcie Lee / Roar! News

IN and amongst the dust, filters, noise and general obfuscation it is worth going back to the resolves of the motion we actually passed last night. 348 students at KCL voted to pressure management to do “thorough research into KCL investments, partnerships, and contracted companies, including subcontractors that may be implicated in violating Palestinian human rights.”

This sounds rather fair, given that KCL’s own Ethical Investment Policy (2009) states “All investment managers engaged by the College are required to have due regard to ethical and environmental issues.”And while it could just be me, violating Palestinian human rights sounds pretty unethical.

We voted to pressure management to divest from companies or institutions directly invested in or culpable for the illegal occupation. While some have argued divestment has no place at a university, our own Ethnical Investment Policy states that KCL is “prohibited from making any direct investment in tobacco companies.”

Why? Because there is something inherently out of kilter about a medical university being invested in, and therefore helping to sustain, tobacco companies.

‘A source of pride for student history’

There is also something wildly out of kilter with a university aligned with or invested in an illegal occupation that regularly abuses the human rights of Palestinians. The reason BDS comes up on campuses so often is because in 2005 171 Palestinian groups made the global call to join a boycott against institutions directly complicit in their oppression. BDS on UK campuses is a response to that specific call.

Israel is an incredibly powerful state bolstered historically and currently by imperial giants Britain and America. In this context, boycott as a tactic provides a method that puts economic and political pressure on the state of Israel in order to offer the kind of leverage that gives substance to the demand to end the occupation.

For as long as the occupation remains in the general interest of the colonial project of the Israeli state, the Palestinians’ concerns and rights will remain expedient.

It is in this spirit that students’ unions across the globe, apparently including KCLSU, joined the boycott against South African Apartheid. That boycott worked precisely because it gave the disenfranchised and those in solidarity with them the economic and political leverage to uproot a powerful, but by no means immutable, political set up.

‘Not all Jewish people are Zionists’

Students, historically, have had an impact on politics much bigger than any of us. As another KCL student has argued in this paper: “Student unions have… an impact in the wider political realm. When Barclays Bank withdrew its investment from Apartheid South Africa, it cited the NUS boycott as a contributing factor.”

This is a source of pride for student history, but it was only ever achieved because students rejected seeing themselves as individualised, atomised and powerless student union members, but recognised their broader place in a world where oppression exists.

Nevertheless, some students have voiced concerns that the motion passed is alienating and discriminatory to Jewish and Israeli students. It’s worth saying here that not all Jewish people are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish. It is absolutely necessary to challenge racial discrimination in all its forms; this should be an unshakeable point of principle.

But it is obfuscates the debate to homogenise Jewish students solely into a Zionist narrative. And the claim that the motion passed categorically alienates Jewish students does just that.

I can’t possibly be the only person who knows and is friends with Jewish people (yes, plural) who are in favour of BDS. Automatically homogenising Jewish people into an anti-BDS narrative effectively denies the Judaism of Jews who are pro-BDS.

Further, the motion passed makes no political claims about the legitimacy of Israel as a state; it asks for us to be concerned about the oppression meted down by that state on the Palestinian people and to do something about it.

I am certain anti-Semitism exists at our campus, and I’m equally certain it needs to be stamped out. But those instances of anti-Semitism are not this motion.

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