Note: The following piece was originally published in the Huffington Post on 15 October 2015.
Over the last few weeks our nation’s universities have been welcoming thousands of new students who are about to start some of the best years of their lives. Freshers have lots of decisions to make; which modules should I take?, which societies should I join?, and where am I going to live in second year? to name a few.
University is also an opportunity to explore your personal opinions through student politics. Should you choose to get involved in your local students’ union or even wish to be involved in the National Union of Students (NUS) then there is one decision you should make now.
No – I’m not asking you for your opinion on tuition fees, I’m not even asking you what your thoughts are on the government’s cuts to maintenance grants. What you need to decide is if you support boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.
Strong views on Israel are nothing new to the student movement and I fully support students fighting for international justice. So why is BDS different? If those forcing you to make this decision cared about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict then they would not be forcing you to make this decision now. They would encourage you to do what students are taught to do; conduct your own research and reach your own informed decision. The difference is that BDS in the UK student community is not like any other topic but an identity; an identity that will define where you sit within student politics. When I asked you if you supported BDS, what I was really asking is, are you on the ‘student right’ (which most people would consider middle ground or mainstream) or the ‘student left’ (which is usually considered the hard-left)?
Not ready to make this monumental decision yet? Do not fear as some at NUS have produced resources to help you! This summer we were introduced to the NUS BDS Handbook, your guide on how to join the ‘student left’.
The handbook is very clear in its intention; it does not seek to give a nuanced version of history but to be fair I don’t believe the authors ever would claim it should. The purpose of the handbook is simply to further the delegitimisation of Israel within the student movement and to embed BDS in its foundations.
There is, however, a minimum requirement that I believe most students should expect from their leadership and that is for the content to be factually correct. The handbook uses a variety of statistics to make its point and very few of these have had their sources referenced. This would be bad enough if it wasn’t for the fact that this book was supposedly produced for students by students. One of the very first lectures new students will receive is on the necessity of proper referencing. If I handed in an essay without sources, I would not be passing that module.
But, just because they didn’t reference their sources doesn’t make their statistics incorrect, so here is some of my own research and I’ve even included my sources. On page five it is claimed that 87% of Palestinians lived below the poverty line in 2007 but according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) the figure is actually 51.8% . So where did their inflated figure come from and more importantly; why did they use 2007 when the figure in 2014 is 39%?
It would be unfair for me to say that their figures are only incorrect when it is supports their point. For instance, on page seven we are told that Israel directly controls 46% of the West Bank. Actually the fully Israeli controlled Area C comprises 60% of the West Bank with the partially controlled Area B making up a further 22%.
Inaccuracies are not the only problem with the publication as it also contradicts current NUS policy. NUS has always been a pro-peace organisation but the last page is covered in imagery that glorifies Palestinian violence. The image also disregards NUS’ support for a two-state solution as it is based on a map with no recognition of Israel.
Unfortunately this is not an area where sitting on the fence seems to be socially acceptable so it’s time to make your mind up. My request is that when you make your decision, try not to do this based solely on a poorly researched and patronising handbook.