Clarification on the Union’s position on the BDS referendum. Neutrality?
The SOAS Students’ Union has supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) since 2005. This campaign was called by Palestinian civil society members urging the international community to comprehensively boycott all Israeli companies and institutions until Israel meets its obligations under international law by: (i) ending its occupation of Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 and dismantling the wall; (ii) ending the institutionalized racism against Palestinians within Israel; and (iii) allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their lands and homes.
In October 2014, two of the sabbatical officers brought a motion to the first Union General Meeting of the year. Together with reaffirming the Union’s historical commitment to BDS, the motion stressed the importance of making an extra step, calling on the Union to take the BDS campaign to the University. Differently from previous times, instead of taking a UGM vote at face value, the motion stated the need for a school-wide referendum where all members of the SOAS community are to come and express their opinion on whether SOAS, as a British Higher Education institution, should take the lead in fully endorsing the BDS campaign through an academic boycott.
There were a number of reasons that a school-wide referendum was deemed more suitable than the result of a simple majority vote at the UGM. For despite the UGM being the pinnacle of Union democracy, we, the present Sabbatical officers, felt that for an issue of such importance a simple vote on a motion would not suffice when determining if students felt the School in its institutional capacity should endorse the BDS campaign. Therefore, we decided to call for a referendum, convinced of its threefold advantage:
1) To make sure that every SOAS student has the chance to express their own opinion on the matter, preventing intimidation from happening against those who would be against BDS in a UGM vote by show of hands
2) In the case of a ‘yes vote’ win, to have a stronger mandate to pressure the SOAS management to adopt BDS at School-wide level
3) To enable all members of the SOAS community to vote and to foster awareness within the SOAS community of the links SOAS shares with Israeli institutions complicit of the systematic oppression of Palestinians, and to promote discussion around the case of BDS, the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state and any peaceful means for international actors to support the resistance of the Palestinian people
In the last days we have received some constructive criticism from members of the SOAS community that have rightly believed that the Union has a bias when it comes to the referendum. This is correct. Any claim of ‘neutrality’ would now be not only against union policy, but dishonest and false, since the Union was the instigator of the campaign through that initial UGM motion that both reaffirmed support to BDS whist also calling for the referendum.
Our understanding is that having the Union supporting one potential result of the referendum doesn’t make this referendum obsolete. As long as the action and practice of voting takes places fairly (an external returning officer will be involved with monitoring the referendum), this initiative will guarantee all of those who will want to come and vote a fair chance to decide for themselves what their position is in a secret ballot. It is important to remember that this referendum is taking place in a consultative capacity, and that SOAS as an institution has no legal binding to follow the possible results of this referendum.
The Union’s main role in regards to the referendum is to ensure it is open and fair and to promote it as much as we can in order to get as many members of the SOAS community to vote, to ensure that the result is as representative as possible. If, for whatever reason, you are concerned about being able to express your opinions on this matter, please do seek the Union’s support through the Union officers, as it is our responsibility to facilitate an environment in which this topic can be debated and discussed and in which everyone feels comfortable and able to express their opinions.
We hope to have cleared some of the doubts that various students have flagged up to us. We also take responsibility for these or any other criticism that has or might arise. However, we are keen to discuss if not resolve any issues one might take with the way the Union has conducted itself so far. Please come to the office in G8 if you do have any concerns, or email one of the following.
David - firstname.lastname@example.org
Kabir - email@example.com
Georgie - firstname.lastname@example.org
 By ‘all members’ we hereby mean the widest possible group that can be defined: all students, staff members (academic and non) and also all outsourced members of staff who work at SOAS both full-time and part-time.
 There is to be added that the campaign is informed by a workign group that has been collecting information via various channels: from the SOAS management (that through a freedom of information request had to make public SOAS’s links with Israeli institutions and companies), to both SOAS based and international, Palestinian and Israeli academics and activists (also still active in Israel), who instead provided information to show the complicity of Hebrew University with the every-day oppression of the Palestinian people.