Oct 30th, 2009: Following a landmark referendum, students at Sussex University have voted to boycott Israeli goods. The decision follows the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, which calls upon the Israeli state to respect international law and end the occupation of Palestine.
The referendum result mandates the Students’ Union to remove all Israeli produce from its stores, and review its sources for food outlets. This makes Sussex Students’ Union the first in the UK to implement a full boycott of Israeli goods through referendum. The vote was one of the largest and closest contested in the Union’s history, with 562 votes for and 450 against the boycott.
The referendum received messages of support and thanks from Jewish and Israeli academics and non-governmental organisations that oppose Israel’s policy of occupation in Palestine. Author and scholar Norman G. Finkelstein described the referendum result as ‘a victory, not for Palestinians but for truth and justice’.
He continued by saying, ‘Let us hope the boycott transmits the message to Israel that it should end the occupation, so that Palestinians can lead a decent life and amicable relations can be restored between Israelis and other peoples.‘
UK charity War On Want and the Palestinian grassroots campaign Stop The Wall also sent messages of support.
Debates over the boycott were often tense, with the Friends of Palestine Society leading the ‘Yes’ campaign, and the ‘No’ campaign running under the slogan ‘Build Bridges Not Boycotts’. Martha Baker, a member of Palestine Society and speaker at one of the events, said that the biggest challenge for the pro-Boycott team was not, however, the pro-Israeli campaigners.
‘Our biggest challenge was ignorance: most students are not aware of the situation facing Palestinians living under occupation. Much of our work involved actually telling people what was happening in Palestine. The more we spoke to people, the more they understood the reasons for boycotting Israel.’
The 30-strong ‘Yes’ campaign team aimed to talk to as many students as possible in person. Syed Bokhari, one of the campaigners, pointed out that door-knocking on campus and talking to people face-to-face proved invaluable to the final outcome. In addition, a benefit club night featuring Lowkey helped raise awareness about the occupation of Palestine.
Pro-Boycott students also made extensive use of social networking sites to raise awareness about the campaign. Messages of support from NGOs and academics were shared almost instantly across Facebook, and pro-Boycott talks were recorded and published on the Palestine Society’s YouTube channel.
Senior Palestine Society member Bushra Khalidi says that the society will now focus its efforts on gaining scholarships for Palestinian students, and lobbying the Union to sell Palestinian West Bank produce.
Please distribute this text (and photo) widely, and provide a link back to this original.