MLS have voted to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, causing controversy among some members of the society
At their open meeting on Thursday 16th March, Manchester Labour Students, who boast the largest membership of a student Labour club in the country, voted to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sacntions) movement.
This news follows the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union endorsing the BDS movement in December.
The BDS movement was founded in 2005 and aims to put economic pressure on the Israeli government in order to draw attention to Israel’s controversial policies towards Palestine. The BDS movement state on their website: “We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”
Huda Ammori, the organiser of the The University of Manchester BDS campaign, stated that:
“Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are a non-violent measure to pressure the Israeli government to end its human rights violations and system of oppression against the Palestinian people. The movement does not target individuals, but rather aims to put emphasis back on respect for international law.”
“The 3 demands of BDS are: the right of return for Palestinian refugees that have been expelled by the Israeli army, the end of the illegal occupation of Palestinian land including the dismantling of the apartheid wall built in 1994, and equal rights for the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel – they currently face more than 50 laws which discriminate against them – within Israel itself.”
However, despite the result of the vote on Thursday, the decision to back BDS is by no means supported by all members of Manchester Labour Students. An anonymous Jewish member of Manchester Labour Students told The Mancunion:
“As a Jewish student in MLS, I’m extremely disappointed that MLS voted to support BDS. I could not even attend the meeting because this topic is so anxiety-inducing and I no longer feel comfortable at Manchester Labour Students meetings where members support policies like BDS.”
She continued by stating: “BDS demonises the Jews and Israelis who believe in Israel’s right to exist and encourages a boycott of them. 92% of Jews with myself included believe that Israel as a country is part of their Jewish identity and we feel connected to it as the world’s only Jewish state.”
She further stated that the fact “BDS questions Israel’s legitimacy when no other country is delegitimised” is “blatant anti-Semitism”.
She ended by saying: “I don’t agree with the occupation but BDS cuts all ties to Israel, isolating the country and therefore isolating the Jews who believe in Israel’s right to exist. Manchester Labour Students should be standing up for Jewish students like they do for any other minority group, but MLS’s support for BDS does exactly the opposite.”
The Co-Chair of Manchester Labour Students, Zak Deakin, who spoke to The Mancunion stressing that he does not speak on behalf of the society, gave this statement: “At all our events, we operate a safe space policy so that any racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic language or behaviour is taken very seriously.
“Fortunately, I have never known any such things to have happened at any MLS events. That does not necessarily mean however, that we always create the most welcoming environment for all Labour members to come together and discuss our values.
“Once again, we have seen the concerns of Jewish students sidelined in pursuit of a certain political agenda. I have tried exceptionally hard to be an MLS co-chair that engages with Jewish students and takes their concerns and ideas seriously. Last night, I cannot say that Manchester Labour Students lived up to that ideal.
In response to the anonymous Jewish student, Huda Ammori told The Mancunion:
“BDS does not exist to demonise – it exists to bring light to violations of human rights. The main point of BDS is to pressure the Israeli government into complying with international law and human rights. This about the Israeli government and not the idea of the Israeli state or Israeli citizens – this about Palestinians having equal human rights. All we want is equal rights for Palestinians and for Israel to obey the law and stop the occupation.”
She added that “For many decades, Jewish groups around the world have raised their voices against the oppression of the Palestinians. For instance, in the UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices (UK), and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, support Palestinian human rights and are critical of the Israeli government.”
The BAME officer of Manchester Labour students told The Mancunion:
“I am extremely proud that MLS decided to support BDS. BDS is about liberation; it is a campaign that calls for the end of the oppression of the Palestinian people through the non-violent means of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions on the state of Israel’
“I know that many people with different opinions about BDS ultimately want peace in the region, but peace cannot be had until basic, fundamental rights are afforded to the Palestinian people, and the Labour movement knows that oppressive powers have never handed us our rights on a silver platter”.
“With regards to MLS, I am also extremely proud of the manner in which the debate was conducted; in BAME caucus, a Jewish student proposed that safeguarding measures be taken for the debate, and as BAME officer, I ensured that a Safeguarding officer was elected, and the debate was conducted in a safe, respectful manner.”
They further highlighted how BDS was relevant for university students, as university fees are used to ‘fund weapons research’. Huda Ammori echoed this sentiment by adding “We are a student-led campaign and we find it deeply concerning that our university and educational institutes are funding companies such as Caterpillar with our student fees, since this is a clear violation of the university’s ethical investment policy. Caterpillar supply the armoured bulldozers that the Israeli Defence Forces use to demolish Palestinian homes.”
Labour Friends of Israel and Labour Friends of Palestine have been approached but are yet to comment.