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24th April 2022

The BDS Referendum: Debate Report

As it was an open meeting, Morven Proctor (Director of Membership Services) agreed that Liverpool Guild Student Media could publish a recap, provided it remains neutral and unbiased. Both students who gave statements also agreed to us publishing the transcripts of their speeches, with no further embellishment or comment, in the interest of us remaining impartial.

Liverpool Guild Student Media attended the BDS Referendum Debate, ahead of the BDS Referendum. Voting is open from 9am on 25th April – 2pm on 27th April.

The student debate was chaired by Student Officer, Ffion, ahead of the Referendum. The aim was to allow students  representing each side of the debate to present their main arguments, followed by questions. However, on this occasion, the Q&A could not go ahead as intended.

Introduction

Ffion opened the meeting by reiterating that a student initially proposed the idea. It was discussed at the Guild Summit but as they didn’t reach a consensus, the Referendum came into being. In this ballot, they need at least 3% of all students to vote for the result to be valid.

Then, she detailed the outline of the debate. Firstly, a five-minute speech would be given by one member of each of the student campaign teams – ‘Yes Team’ and ‘No Team’. Then pre-submitted questions would be answered and finally, the floor would be open for attendees to ask questions they had following the statements.

Ffion added she would be chairing as, “fairly and neutrally as possible”, without giving commentary on her thoughts. She wished for students to remain, “positive, passionate and respectful” throughout the debate, despite it being a “contentious topic”.

She explained that each student would have five minutes to speak and that she would time this to maintain fairness. The ‘Yes Team’ would go first, as they had proposed the idea, the ‘No Team’ would follow. She stated that if either side went over five minutes, she would have to cut them off.

The ‘Yes Team’

Once the ‘Yes Team’ representative was ready to begin, Ffion began the timer. You can read their original, submitted statement here.

BDS was started in 2005, by 170 Palestinian civil bodies, as a form of non-violent pressure on Israel – inspired by the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement. BDS aims to end international support for Israel – for Israeli violations of international law by forcing companies, institutions and governments, into line with their basic tenants of… basic tenants of stopping infringing on human rights of the Palestinians.

It has three aims, which are: ending the occupation/colonisation of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall; recognising the fundamental rights of the Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees, to return to their homes and properties (as stipulated in the UN Resolution 194). These three rights – these three basic rights cannot – Palestinian people can’t exercise… can’t exercise their basic human rights, that are anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human – of the Human Rights.

Since submitting the idea, Amnesty have reported that Israel is committing apartheid crimes against the Palestinians. That came out in February. Some of the crimes against humanities – against humanity, are: missiles hitting medical and schools, restricting the freedom of movement and prisoners are subjected to unfair trials in military courts and torture in prisons. To reiterate, BDS is a non-violent way of supporting the Palestinians during this time.

The global nature of the economy means that there are many companies that have links to Israel and are complicit, to various degrees, in Israel’s violations of international law. However, to have a real impact, BDS focuses the boycott campaign on a select few strategic targets. Developing clarity, cohesion and coordination across local and national initiatives, campaigns and movements from around the world is crucial if the solidarity is to be effective. The UN, The World Bank and other experts have said BDS is having an important impact on Israel since it started and that it could grow more as the movement develops.

The South African boycott campaign that the BDS was inspired and built on was led and strengthened by unions. After a successful National Union of Students campaign, in 2014, to support BDS, the following year a motion was submitted in the Guild to also support BDS, which passed. The idea was resubmitted now (well this year, sorry) to upkeep the solidarity with the Palestinians.

BDS already has a number of supporters across the world. We’ve got city councils in Sheffield, Birmingham, Dublin, in this country and Ireland. US universities: Columbia, Illinois, San Francisco, Brown. We’ve got some of the largest trade unions across the globe: the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Unified Workers’ Central (which is the main trade union in Brazil), the largest trade union in Norway, Scottish Trade Union Congress, UCU (which we’ve all seen about), Unite and the National Union of Teachers. So, there’s also parties, which is the Green Party and the social – the Green Party and the Scottish Greens, as well as the Democratic Socialists of America. I know I mentioned universities before but they’re just the universities, not the student unions, actual student unions are: the Student Union in Ireland, NUS (the one just previous was like the NUS for Ireland) and the Canadian Federation of Students. We’ve got actual British unis, so: Swansea, Exeter, Dundee, KCL and SOAS. So, there are actual human rights organisations in Israel who lend their support to BDS, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

These, as you can see, are a wide range. They are global and it is a movement that is gaining momentum, recently too. Arguments against BDS often spring up due to ignorance of the cause or ignorance of feasible outcomes. So, one of the most common arguments are that it focuses – BDS focuses on Israel, ignores other countries that don’t comply with human rights, such as Saudi but this is because BDS is about Palestinians and the Israeli apartheid crimes. Yeah, it doesn’t mention Saudi because Palestinians aren’t in Saudi. It’s not singling out the Jewish state, holding it to a unique standard. It’s – sanctions right now are being placed, onto Russia, from the UK. It’s a common method – used method, of applying pressure onto governments, China, US have it on China now. They are done. They are used. Peace talks also comes up as an option but to have peace talks you’d have to have Israel abiding by human rights of the Palestinians. If you’re having Israel —.

The ‘Yes Team’ was then cut off by Ffion, for reaching their five-minute time limit.

The ‘No Team’

Ffion then gave the floor to the representative from the ‘No Team’. You can read their original, submitted statement here.

I would just like to start off by saying, I don’t consent to my face being put up on anywhere online because as a Jew, a minority in the city, I feel scared, especially to speak out on this issue publicly. I’m not openly Jewish at uni because I fear for my own safety at times. So, I want to start off with that.

Also, just addressing [the ‘Yes Team’ representative] quickly, before I even begin, we’re not arguing that Palestinians shouldn’t have the right to their state, we’re arguing that BDS is antisemitic and [the ‘Yes Team’ representative] didn’t mention that once, which is disgusting.

Moving on, I just wanna —.

Ffion then interjected to make sure the ‘No Team’ knew that their five minutes had started, “just to keep it as fair as possible”.

That’s fine, that’s fine, that’s fine. So, I’m going to address the actual issue at hand. For starters, firstly, unfortunately, a lot of Jewish students haven’t been able to attend. Simply because on this day, it’s a holy day, meaning practising Jews can’t use technology. So, you guys hosting this Referendum on Yom Tov, this holy day, is disrespectful but we move on.

I just want to start off by saying, eighteen European countries have endorsed a report which found that over a hundred examples of antisemitism was caused by BDS. Germany, the country where fascism rose and six million Jews were killed, admitted and said that – they didn’t admit, they said openly, that BDS increases a rise in antisemitism, fascism and fascist ideologies worldwide. I just wanted to mention that.

With regards to this Referendum in general, the Guild was asked – the Guild asked a sample of students, who demographically represented campus, to discuss their thoughts and I quote, a lot of them said they, “don’t feel educated enough to make a decision”, they either oppose the idea completely, they, “have concerns about antisemitism and isolating students”. Obviously, we are a very – there’s only thirty of us perhaps, at this university. Which comes to show that, you know, this Referendum is just, you guys are just picking and choosing who you rally against.

The Uni of Liverpool Meme Page did a – had a poll and they asked if anyone has even heard of anti-BDS. Seventy-seven per cent of you said they’ve never even heard or unsure and ten per cent thought it was a K-pop band, which is pretty ridiculous.

Moving on though, moving on. I would just like to state that Layla Moran, a Palestinian Liberal Democrat of Parliament said and I quote, word for word, “the BDS movement does have issues with antisemitism which should be condemned, any kind of pro-Palestinian group which dabbles in antisemitism is working against a peaceful two-state solution.” So there, she’s saying, an active pro-Palestinian Member of Parliament, saying, the only way to coexist is through peace and through love and understanding that we can actually live together.

In this instance, I’ve been – when I was younger, you know, obviously I’m Jewish and grew up – we were never taught about Palestinian or Israel conflict in school. We… we did our own research. I went to Israel, I’ve been to the West Bank and spoken to Palestinians. Statistics have shown that ninety-one per cent of Palestinian citizens don’t trust the PA Government. So, when people say “free Palestine”, for sure, you free Palestine but you’ve got to free it from the terrorist organisation that’s currently running it. Hamas is, genuinely, they’ve taken over this bit of land and they’re entrapping the civilians, who should and would have a much better life in Israel if Hamas wasn’t there and it would be incredible for them.

However, you know, BDS is arguing against that, BDS is in fact putting pressure on these Palestinian civilians and making it harder for them to voice their opinion or to actually express concerns that they need. But on to the matter here, BDS, as Jews we all feel, you know we had – every single Jewish student in this uni has stated that BDS is antisemitic and we don’t feel comfortable with it. It’s like, you know, Caucasians, white individuals, we can’t decide what’s racist or not. Another example, you know, males can’t determine what’s sexist or not. It’s the same thing. You can’t tell a Jew what’s antisemitic or not because you’re not Jewish. So, if a Jew is telling you that BDS is making them uncomfortable and they feel like it’s got antisemitic tendencies with it, we are uncomfortable even having the motion supported. This Referendum is making me, as a person speaking here… I don’t like it, I really don’t like it. That’s all I have to say.

Due to our… due to our disagreement (sorry, sorry), we refuse to entertain this debate. For reasons that we will not be participating any further, a vote against BDS is not a vote against Palestine movement, it’s against antisemitism and as a result, me and my fellow Jewish pupils who attend this uni will be leaving. Thank you very much for listening to me, have a lovely day.

Conclusion

Ffion confirmed that the ‘No Team’ were exactly on five minutes so she would confer with staff to see what would happen next.

As a result of the ‘No Team’ withdrawing from the debate, they could not continue with the questions, as “it would be unfair, both of those parties need to be [at the debate] to be able to argue both sides”. She then drew the meeting to a close, thanking both speakers for speaking so eloquently and reminding everyone that the voting is open from 9am on 25th April – 2pm on 27th April.

Seeking Support

Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, the Guild will be offering support to all students and campaigners throughout the referendum and following the vote outcome. There is a range of services you can access through Guild Advice and the University Wellbeing advisers. All support details can be found here.

Feature Image Credit: Unsplash