On 8 July, the gala dinner and awards ceremony at the NUS event SU 2015 held in Bolton was disrupted by BDS activists after controversy broke out when it was revealed that the awards were being sponsored by Coca Cola. Thirty of the several hundred conference attendees chose to boycott the event, including five NUS officers and four NUS vice presidents.
Those boycotting the event released a statement claiming that, ‘The acceptance of sponsorship from Coca Cola Enterprises Ltd. is a direct violation of our current BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Campaign policy’. A stream of tweets flooded #SU15, with Malaka Mohammed of the NUS Executive Committee describing Coca Cola as a ‘pro-Zionist company’, whilst others posted photographs of supporters of the boycott holding up signs reading, ‘Coca-Cola is #NotInMyFridge because it operates in illegal Israeli settlements’. NUS figure Rah Singh went as far as exhorting delegates to ‘Enjoy the sweet taste of a dead baby’s blood in that coke you’re loving’. Israel Hate Watch doesn’t want to accuse Singh of recycling traditional anti-semitic blood libel tropes, but would advise him to choose his language with a little more care in the future.
Israel-bashing and support for BDS is hardly new amongst far left activists within NUS, but this time the BDS activists seemed unhappy with the BDS policy that they themselves had pushed through. The NUS claims that it went to the official BDS movement for its interpretation and that Coca Cola does not play ‘a clear and direct role’ in Israel, ‘that companies, such as Coca Cola, are not priorities for the BDS movement’, and that following research, found that no Coca Cola products made in Israel were sold in the UK.
To back up their claims that Coca Cola is guilty of ‘complicity’ with Israel, the organisers of the boycott fell back on the Friends of Al-Aqsa website, which reveals that Coca Cola owns companies that own companies that operate in two settlements, none of which supply goods to the UK. This hardly constitutes ‘a clear and direct role’. Falling back on Friends of Al-Aqsa is unfortunate, considering that the organisation’s founder Ismail Patel has declared that ‘we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel’, whilst their journal has given a platform to Azzam ‘Kaboom’ Tamimi, who on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme declared during a discussion of suicide bombing as a tactic that, ‘You see sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity.’
Reassuringly, there were a number of voices of reason. Ben Street, the Exeter VP for Education, stated that he was ‘disappointed to find out that a lot of the discussion has been about BDS and Coca Cola, not other student issues’, whilst Abraham Baldry, President of the University of Sussex Students’ Union who, despite supporting a boycott of Coca Cola, felt that ‘this debacle seems more about power and who has it than BDS’.
Russell Langer, Union of Jewish Students Campaigns Director, provided photographs of Sheffield Student Union, which maintains a BDS policy, stocking Coca Cola in its shop, leading Omar Raii, External Affairs and Campaign Officer at UCL Union to suggest that, ‘It’s almost as if BDS is really about looking cool in front of your mates rather than achieving anything’. He might say that, but we couldn’t possibly comment…