This summer term, YUSU will be calling on every York student to cast his/her vote in a university wide referendum. The referendum will be held in early summer term on whether YUSU should support the boycott of goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These settlements are considered illegal under international law, being in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
First proposed at the beginning of the academic year, the motion was presented to the University’s board of trustees and passed on to the networks and colleges for consultation. Ultimately it was decided that it is the students who should have the final say. For those unfamiliar with the topic, the weeks leading up to the referendum will include strong awareness campaigns and encourage lively and rational discussion on whether YUSU should support the boycott.
Over the past years and especially following the latest raid on Gaza, many universities and major institutions in the UK and around the world have voiced support for the Palestinian struggle for justice and adopted similar boycotts. This includes several UK universities including King’s College, Cardiff, Sussex, Exeter and most recently SOAS. Even the National Union of Students voted on the matter, passing a motion to ensure that “[the] NUS does not employ or work with companies identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity.” As a world-class University, York should take a stance too.
The boycott movement is considered the most effective form of non-violent resistance against Israeli occupation and a strategy to pressure the Israeli government to end settlement construction and respect the fundamental human rights of Palestinians.
In York, the focus is on the boycott of settlement goods. Since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967, the Israeli government has constructed over 120 illegal settlements on Palestinian land, in the occupied West Bank.
The construction of the settlements has resulted in numerous violations of Palestinian human rights, including house demolitions, land confiscation, destruction of farm land and mass displacement. Meanwhile, settlers moving there from Israel have gained superior resources and access in the same territory. The settlements have been condemned internationally by the United Nations and the European Union.
Widely recognised as being the least contentious form of boycott, the boycott of settlements is supported by a large number of organisations and individuals, from churches and corporations to world leaders, even including Israelis who are opposed to the criminal settlement construction. In the UK, the Co-operative supermarket became one of the first companies to stop sourcing goods from Israeli settlements.
While YUSU does not currently sell any products from the settlements, the move will be a symbol of solidarity, as well as ensuring that YUSU will not source goods from illegal settlements in the future. Israeli goods and services not made in settlements will not be affected by this boycott.
This is our generation’s equivalent of the struggle to end South African apartheid that united the world, from students and politicians to trade unions and churches.