SOAS becomes first UK university to boycott Israel

SOAS becomes first UK university to boycott Israel
3 min read
28 February, 2015
London's School of Oriental and African Studies votes to boycott Israel in a referendum that included students and staff.
Israel’s 2004 war on Gaza increased calls for the boycott [AFP]
The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israel, becoming the first British university to do so.

The University of London-affiliated college held the referendum of students, academics and staff on Friday after a six-week campaign.

The "Yes" campaign took 73 percent of the vote, with 27 percent disagreeing.

SOAS, which has institutional ties with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is the first British university to vote to suspend all such coordination.

"The result is not legally binding, but it gives us a stronger mandate to campaign and take the boycott further to the university's management," Amira Nassim, president of the SOAS Palestine Society, told al-Araby al-Jadeed
     Boycott, divestment and sanctions are means to an end.
- Amira Nassim, SOAS Palestine Society

The SOAS students' union was among the supporters of the boycott campaign.

It had voted to boycott Israel in 2005, as did student unions of several other UK universities - but this referendum went further, and was about implementing the academic boycott throughout the entire university.

The referendum went beyond students and included all academics and staff - including administrators, security and cleaners.

While there is little prospect that student exchange programmes and other ties with Israel's universities will be immediately terminated, the inclusivity of the vote means that the boycott campaign has a stronger and more democratic basis when it approaches the university's governing bodies. 

"This is significant because most of the SOAS community supports the boycott," said Nassim. "Boycott, divestment and sanctions are means to an end - to achieve justice, equality and rights for all Palestinians - and this is a step in that direction." 

The referendum was supported by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and an alliance of 21 student and academic unions. The result was hailed as an "historic victory" on the campaign's Facebook page.
     Israel's academic institutions came out in support of the Israeli military while it deliberately bombed universities.
- BDS campaign

Wider movement

The academic boycott of Israel is arguably the most criticised element of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The movement, however, has emphasised that Israeli academia is intimately linked with political oppression, and condemned it for having supported Israel's military assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014.

"Israel's academic institutions came out in support of the Israeli military while it deliberately bombed universities and other civilian infrastructure in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip," the BDS said in a statement. 

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem "is partially built on stolen Palestinian land and has an army base on its campus; its complicity in Israeli violations of international law are well documented", the BDS statement continued. 

"Hebrew University stood by the Israeli army during the attack on Gaza... and maintains close ties to the Israeli military industry and collaborates with the Israeli army in training officers and recruits."

Furthermore, "staff from the Hebrew University take part in the supervision and promotion of committees of students and staff at the colony-college of Ariel, which was established on confiscated Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank".