A historic victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was achieved Friday in the referendum on the academic boycott of Israel, at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Out of 2056 votes cast, an overwhelming majority of 73% voted in favour of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. This victory reinforces the demands of the BDS call issued in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organizations.
The voting took place between 23rd and 27th of February. The referendum was School-wide, that is, it was open to all members of the SOAS community. This included current students, academics, non-academic staff, university governors, and outsourced workers such as cleaners, security, and catering
SOAS represents one of the most diverse student bodies in the UK with roughly 6,000 students and staff of multi-faith backgrounds from over 133 countries. The referendum was called for by the Students’ Union, and was conducted in an open, fair and transparent environment. Both the Yes and No campaigners were given equal platforms to hold panel discussions and debates.
The academic boycott campaign was led by students and staff from various nationalities, backgrounds, and faith groups reflecting the broad support for the boycott. It has demonstrated the popular appeal of BDS as a powerful form of protest and resistance.
By voting in favour of the academic boycott, the SOAS community has confirmed its unwavering commitment to freedom, equality and justice for all Palestinians and has reasserted its call for an end to Israeli apartheid, oppressive occupation, and settler-colonialism.
Presently, SOAS has ties with the Hebrew University, which unapologetically joined the “war effort” last summer when the Israeli army murdered over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza. In October 2014, the US weapons-producer Lockheed Martin announced that a cooperation agreement had been signed with Yissum, a technology firm that belongs to the Hebrew University.
The academic boycott campaign stresses that the boycott does not contradict academic freedom as it targets Israeli institutions complicit in the oppression of Palestinians, not individuals. Open enquiry, free exchange of ideas, and intellectual freedom are crucial to every academic community, but freedom can only be real when it is afforded to all. This has to include the Palestinians.
The Palestine Society and the BDS campaign at SOAS state: “This historic result has brought us one step further in our struggle for freedom and justice. We do not tolerate any collaboration with academic institutions which are complicit in human rights violations and which do not practice the values of academic freedom and equality. We call upon other universities to show their solidarity by joining the academic boycott.”
More news at AIC.