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Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanction and Debate

For, Anonymous

Seventy years, three wars, two peace accords, countless ceasefires and casualties later, little has changed for the Palestinian people. Through continuous violence, compromise and half-hearted plurality, Israeli land grabbing and humanitarian violations seem to be the only constants. Amid the graveyard of failed policies and crippled resolutions, a grassroots movement has emerged as a solitary lodestar.

“Israel is the largest receiver of American foreign aid………Combating this phenomenon lies at the heart of every fair solution to the Palestinian problem”.

The BDS is uniquely bicarmel, focusing solely on the tools of oppression employed by the Israeli apartheid state. It is a non-violent manner of revealing the hidden financilisation of the apartheid status-quo. People all over the world have started to question Israeli attacks on human rights and depart from institutions, governments and companies linked to these crimes. BDS continues crucial dialogue on  normalising and legitimising the role that money plays on turning a blind eye to Israel’s atrocities. Israel is the largest receiver of American foreign aid, its revenue creates and maintains an uneven platform for negotiations. Combating this phenomenon lies at the heart of every fair solution to the Palestinian problem.
The effectiveness of the BDS movement lies in its independence from political partisanship on the continual financing of the Israeli state. This is a departure from a path of dependency on vested interest and greed. Besides the factory shutdowns and cancelled MoUs, the BDS movement has had a larger impact on western political thinking. The last elections in the UK and the current presidential race in the U.S are both testament to its burgeoning relevance.  
The ‘paternally liberalistic’ qualities of the BDS movement gives freedom of choice to the individual. One may choose to partially endorse Israeli products, even after being informed of their choices’ geopolitical implications. Unlike other movements BDS is inherently inclusive rather than exclusive due to its narrative driven approach. This unipolar approach perpetually pushes its audience towards focused and tenacious dialogue.  
Finally, the BDS movement’s continued existence is a testimonial to its own success. This has been seen recently in the euro vision contest and the boycott of singers. It brings to light the conflicts that are not close to being resolved. Furthermore, the BDS movement is immune from recency bias as it attempts through non violent measures to keep the Israeli and palastinian issue understood in its entire context. Instead of only deriving its goals from the latest developments, BDS allows room for deeper analysis and asks HOW rather than WHEN? It strikes at the heart of the question and seeks to uproot the true enabler for the delay on a resolution-  money. 
In 2015, the SOAS SU adopted a resolution backing BDS. I believe that this was not only justified but also necessary to raise awareness about the atrocities that exist in the aparthied state. This movement only works if we as a collective act together to maintain the conservation of this regime. We need to back this solution with renewed urgency because it remains the only grassroots development to inflict a reaction within politics through non violent measures. 

Against, Ryan Prosser, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical)

If there is a single distinctive feature of SOAS, it’s that we’re not shy about our opinions. A hint of discontent with anything, from outsourcing staff to decolonisation, and it’s out with the banners, placards, drums and megaphones. We are truly a university of protesters.
One such campaign, in particular, struck me early on during my time at SOAS, boycott, divestment and sanctions. The name was conspicuously striking. No allusion to human rights, no positive message, just the imposition of tough consequences. On 27 February 2015, the Union became the first in the country to formally back this campaign, only for the proposition to be derailed by the SOAS management.
It’s worth noting that this decision was the result of a school wide referendum the same year, a “democratic landslide” in which the overall turnout barely surpassed 30%. With no minimum threshold, a simple majority was all that was required. With the vast majority of students and staff switching off from the issue, the motion was bound to pass. This overwhelming abstention is a demonstration of how SOAS politics functions. In this respect, it seems to only work for the few, and not the many. 
Nonetheless, five years on, BDS retains an omnipresence in the SOAS community and understandably so, as the backdrop to its campaign, the Israel – Palestine conflict, has been a current affair for the past two decades. Yet the approach taken here is like none other protest. It doesn’t merely seek to promote awareness, but effects change upon it, imposing a full economic boycott of Israel until it ends its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Naturally, such a boycott has had minimal concrete effects at SOAS. A casual glance around the library reveals no shortage of Apple iPhones and MacBooks, the technology for which was developed in Israel.

“This is all against the backdrop of a world in which we need to start talking”
Of course it would be one thing if the BDS campaign applied its well founded human rights standards globally. Yet as far as I can recall, the SOAS Union did not hold a referendum on boycotting China for its atrocious human rights record particularly in the autonomous community of Xinjiang, or a boycott of Iran for its systematic prejudice towards women. According to the SOAS website, students annually embark on year abroad programmes in 14 different countries, half of which are categorised by the 2019 Democracy Index as “authoritarian regimes”. If boycotts are such an effective method for tackling social injustice and inequality, then why do we not apply them globally? This is not to suggest that we should, but BDS not only turns its back on the obvious parallel basket cases for community annexation. It chooses to scrutinise one of the few Middle Eastern countries that would allow it to do so, where free scholarship is able to flourish. The only parallel that the BDS campaign does make is with South African apartheid, a baseless analogy, given that Israeli law is identical for all citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or background.
Apart from these inconsistencies, the BDS campaign is marked by ambiguity. The scope of the boycott is up for  debate: does it apply to all products made or developed in Israel, or merely to products manufactured by companies registered in Israel? Does the academic boycott cover all universities in the State of Israel or just those on the West Bank, and most importantly of all, which people are affected, just those who work in its Government and influence its policy, or all its citizens? Whether all or just some of these groups are affected by the BDS, the campaign is certainly doing more to exclude rather than include. 
 All this is against the backdrop of a world in which we need, more than ever, to start talking. Today’s political discourse is rendered senseless with finger pointing, fault lines and toxic “us and them” rhetoric. However, the situation is not irredeemable yet. The battle to create a fairer, more sustainable debate starts right here in our nation’s universities.The confluence of 133 different countries, SOAS is the ideal location for this revolution. 
We must start with divesting our attention from BDS, and all the toxicity it brings. Let’s replace it with a new form of positive protest, designed to bring our community together, forging intercultural bonds. Rather than celebrating the setbacks of isolation and segregation, let’s get the ball rolling with constructive academic discussion. We must dispense with the shallow bandwagon politics, and start campaigning for proper dialogue in the Middle East.
Finally, we must recognise the fundamental difference between the Student Union and the student. The former lacks the flexibility to alter external campaigns once it chooses to endorse them, but remains accountable to the latter. This is why our Union should look to be broadly neutral as a whole, empowering societies and individuals to come to their own conclusions, rather than fostering a culture of imposition.

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