Shalom Life | March 06, 2015

UK’s School Of Oriental And African Studies Student Union Say ‘Yes’ to BDS

Despite less than 30% of students participating in the vote, the student union is pushing for SOAS to cut all ties with Israel, including the ones with Hebrew U

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: March 5th, 2015 in News » World

Photo: SOAS

Credit: Wikipedia


Another one bites the dust.

The students and staff at UK’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have voted to join the BDS campaign against Israel and boycott contact with all Israeli institutions, including Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

The vote was organized by the school’s student union, and the results were announced late on Friday night. A part of the student union’s involvement with Israel Apartheid Week, the initiative encouraged students, as well as both teaching and non teaching staff, to participate in the vote.

When the results were revealed, all three of the groups had voted in support of the boycott, with 1,283 students voting for and only 425 against. Of the 300 members of staff, only 60% of teachers voted to support the BDS movement, while 91% of the non teaching staff were in support. However according to Colin Shindler, an academic at SOAS, the student vote was not representative of the school. He claims that about 75% of student at SOAS didn’t participate in the vote, and that number grows to a whooping 86% if students studying abroad are taken into account.

Shindler also expressed his concern that while their campaign was, “intellectually satisfying,” for the Student Union, it was (at best) “politically daft.” He also pointed out in his interview that the BDS movement has done little to hinder Israel.

Moselle Paz Solis, the president of SOAS Jewish Society, also expressed her concerns over the results of the vote, believing a vote to boycott Israeli educational institutions will only strain relationships with these schools and students. “He [SOAS Director Paul Webley] has a duty of care to foster good relations between different religious and ethnic groups- this referendum does the opposite,” she explained.

A spokesman for the Fair Play Campaign also expressed his concern regarding the results of SOAS’ vote, but explained that he was hardly surprised given the school’s reputation for being one of the most anti-semitic in the UK.

“SOAS should be proud of its connections to a fine academic institution like Hebrew University and the opportunities this has afforded many SOAS students to enrich their understanding of the Middle East through study in Israel,” he explained. “We look not to the management of SOAS to guarantee that students of Hebrew at SOAS will still have the opportunity to study at Hebrew U as part of their courses.”

However the SOAS administration has done their best to remind both students and staff that while the student union may have voted in favour of the BDS movement, the school has yet to support the decision. An administration official for the school explained that while the union may be pushing to boycott Israel, the union is only a portion of the school students, and that the voting involved less than 30% of SOAS attendees.

“As highlighted in the Students’ Union’s own correspondences, the school has no legal obligation to act on the result of this vote,” the official said. They also explained that the school maintains a neutral position on the topic, and will continue to do their best to make all members of the SOAS community feel welcome and safe in expressing their opinions. Which, according to the official, “can only be conducted effectively in an atmosphere of open inquiry, mutual tolerance and intellectual freedom.”

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