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Boycotting illegal Israeli settlements - will it change anything?

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[caption id="attachment_121163" align="alignnone" width="640"]Image: Daikrieg el Jevi
Image: Daikrieg el Jevi


Next term, there is to be a vote among students at York on whether or not the University should boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements that are in violation of international law. The motion is whether 'YUSU should support the boycott of goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Campaigns have already begun, with Nourhan Nassar organising the Yes campaign, and Matthew Dent organising the No campaign.

The issue, really, is whether the vote will achieve anything. This particular motion is distinct from the more general Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which calls for a boycott on Israeli goods in general. It's much more limited in scope, focusing solely on the goods produced in settlements whose existence are in violation of international law. So it's not a call to ban Israeli products from being sold on campus, or Israeli speakers being invited to the University. Though the wording may seem controversial, there's nothing actually wrong with the question. The settlements are in violation of international law, and hence are literally illegal; the word isn't being used for effect or to exaggerate.

I'm not going to rehash the arguments for and against boycotting, as there'll be plenty of posts and points made by those actively involved in the campaigns. Rather, I'd just like to ponder on whether a Yes vote would actually achieve anything.

The Yes campaign already freely admit that the University does not currently purchase any goods created in those settlements. So it wouldn't have any impact whatsoever on the current setup at York; everything you can buy now, you'd be able to buy after the boycott. The Yes campaign doesn't dispute this, and is instead making the point that to begin such a boycott would be to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in a non-intrusive way.

But would it really? Campaigns like this are decided on razor-thin margins, and most of the people who vote will be people whose minds have already been made up. That is a statistically insignificant proportion of students. It would be completely ridiculous to argue that the results of YUSU referenda are representative, reliable samples of the general mood and feeling of the student body. There simply aren't enough people who care.

It also wouldn't be an act of solidarity, which implies unity. The fact that there is a No campaign is evidence enough for this. The University wouldn't be, as a whole, standing up to the actions of Israel. Instead, there'd be a group of people supportive of the boycott, and a similar (but smaller) number of students who thoroughly disagreed with it.

And this isn't even touching on the fact that, as York doesn't actually buy anything from the settlements, the boycott wouldn't hurt the settlers' pockets at all. There's already no interaction, so we have no business contracts to sever or investments to withdraw, and hence we will have absolutely no influence over the situation in the slightest.

The most positive message the Yes campaign can feasibly give is that a plurality of a statistically insignificant group think that what's going on in the settlements should be stopped. If that's the best outcome, then what is the point?





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5 Comment

Mr Podge Posted on Friday 20 Sep 2019

I don't find this persuasive at all; we shouldn't vote Yes because it won't achieve anything? Of course individually it won't mean much at all but the point is that COLLECTIVELY boycotts like this: show a strong stand of solidarity with Palestine, raise awareness about the issue and can potentially impact the settlements economically. In the bigger picture it means a lot.

Also... "Campaigns like this are decided on razor-thin margins"', like the one in Exeter which had an 86% approval rate?

and... "Instead, there'd be a group of people supportive of the boycott, and a similar (but smaller) number of students who thoroughly disagreed with it." Yeah that's called democracy mate!

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Ciaran Morrissey Posted on Friday 20 Sep 2019

Hence there's no solidarity. The University isn't united in support of the boycott; it's split into three factions, some of whom support it, some of whom don't, and some of whom are apathetic.

You can't acknowledge that democracy consists of disagreeing groups while also claiming that the results of democratic votes imply any sort of unity. Democacy only exists because humans disagree.

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Northern Pride Posted on Friday 20 Sep 2019

Solidarity doesn't imply unity of the student body. You can disagree with certain aspects of a group and still stand in solidarity with them. The LGBT community may have disagreed with hitting policemen, but they still stood in solidarity with striking miners in the 80s. I can stand in solidarity with all Palestinians while not agreeing with every form of resistance that they take.

Khawla Posted on Friday 20 Sep 2019

Totally agree with you

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Mr Podge Posted on Friday 20 Sep 2019

So a boycott only means anything if there is full support behind it? There were factions of different supporters for the south African boycott issue as well! But overall people were rightly in support of a boycott of the regime. No one today worries about the fact that these boycott movements technically didn't represent ALL views at the time..

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