Sussex Students Boycott Israeli Goods

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.


Students of Sussex Palestine Society
Students of Sussex Palestine Society and Stop The War Coalition. Photo © Josh Jones 2009

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.

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16 thoughts on “Sussex Students Boycott Israeli Goods”

  1. Message from Iyad Burnat, Head of Popular Committee and co-founder of Friends of Freedom and Justice Bil’in, Palestine:

    ‘The committee really appreciates Sussex Students’ Union remarkable idea of starting a boycott on Israeli goods. We hope even more people all around the world will follow by this example so that we can put an end to the Israeli occupation and dismantle the apartheid wall.’

  2. Important point for other unions who want to know how the victory in this referendum was achieved at Sussex:

    The crucial factor in the campaign was NOT facebook and email lists. Of course we use such technology but it is NO substitute for having a campaign on the ground and engaging with people face to face.

    There was a strong campaign on campus which involved people knocking on doors of residences, leafleting and speaking to people outside the polling stations, large public meetings which were not simply built through facebook pages but off people actually physically leafleting on campus and talking to other students, and there was a Beats Beat Bullets: Free Palestine hip-hop gig the week before the referendum which was attended by over 200 students. For the gig alone 6,000 leaflets were handed out – much more than the average persons facebook contact list!

    The campaign involved MANY people doing a LOT of HARD work in the real world which contributed more to our victory than the emails and facebook messages we sent out.

  3. Thankyou Syed for your excellent comment. I have now added a paragraph in the original text to reflect your points.
    Your comment stands as good advice for anyone running campaigns like this in their own communities.

  4. This is very much appreciated. Israel’s apartheid colonial regime has to end and justice for Palestinians has to prevail for the good of of all in this troubled area. A unified democratic bi-national Palestine is the answer…

  5. Way to go Sussex. You are doing a fantastic job for justice all over the world. Governments, countries, and individuals, should learn and know, that committing a crime against civilians and innocent children with disregard to life and property will not be without consequences. The message should be sent loud and clear to Israel’s criminal Government by the people of the world, if the other collaborating Governments would not speak for justice and humanity. You are the voices of the dead children that the rogue Israeli army killed without mercy.

  6. thx alot ppl , iam omar Palestinian from gaza , thx for your support , i wish i can help in any way

    hope ur coming to the march ?!.

  7. Ed, the boycott challenges the actions of a nation-state, not the right for a people to exist.

    The misuse of the term ‘anti-semintism’ is well documented, and your comment is a prime example of how campaigns which oppose Israel’s policy of occupation are tarred incorrectly through acusations of racism.

  8. Zkharay and Ed..

    “What, exactly, does Israel have to do, point by point, to lift such a ban?”

    End the war crimes, stop ocupation, stop acting unproportionally etc etc etc.

    “This indeed will go down in history as another chapter in the long European legacy of antisemitism”

    definitly, however not for the reason you think. the term “anti-semantic” is now redundant because of people like you who misuse it to mean anti-israel.

    long live J-Street..

    eventually the people of the UK and Europse will get our politicians (who are funded by these pro-isreal lobbies) to represent what ‘we want’..

  9. Great job to all the students who live here and understand that the Palestinians are oppressed & humiliated on a daily basis.
    I am married to a Palestinian and he is a wonderful person, he is thankful for the Equal rights he has here in America where he is NOT targeted for being a Palestinian.

    Until the laws are equal in Israel for all people there no matter if they are Israeli or a Palestinian then the hate train will keep rolling down the tracks there. The Israelis are a military power and should not use it to oppress a group of people for their land. As American we should stand up for the under dog and that is the Palestinian who lives in the Holy Land.

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