UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Attempt to promote BDS by the backdoor barred at Warwick Uni

An attempt to promote a discriminatory divestment policy targeting Israel, by including special provisions in a general resolution to divest from unethical industries, has been barred as a result of action taken by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

The motion was titled “Warwick University to fully divest from all unethical industries and release all investments”. It included a number of provisions about fossil fuels but went on to allege that

“The University is working with companies that are directly complicit in human rights violations, such as arms companies (BAE Systems), and other companies (JCB , Thales, etc.) that are complicit in the massacres against and displacement of Palestinians, and maintaining the Israeli Apartheid regime”

It continued:

“The University should divest from industries that are both compliant and in direct violation of human rights, including those that aid Israeli Apartheid”

and went on

“To mandate the Environment and Ethics officers and the Democracy and Development Officer to pressure the University to divest from companies that are both complicit and in direct violation of human rights, including Palestinians’ human rights.”

Slipping these provisions into a motion with a title referring to, and mainly about, “unethical industries” was evidently effective. In a vote open to all students in November last year, this motion was carried by 1713 votes to 1143, whereas a motion at the same time titled “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Motion (BDS): Divest, Break the links & Pledge to be Apartheid Free” was defeated by 1917 votes to 1665.

However, the Warwick Student Union has a sensible regulation, that in all-student votes “Motions to boycott shall be submitted as a Resolves to Boycott and accompanied by support information”.

This rule is fully justified by the divisive nature of such motions and the risk that they promote racism against those associated with the boycotted nationality, ethnicity or other group. Indeed, extensive research conducted in US universities has found a close association between BDS activity against Israel and the targeting of Jewish students for harm.

The motion at Warwick to divest from unethical industries did not comply with this regulation.

UKLFI accordingly wrote to the Trustees of the Student Union pointing out the failure to comply with this requirement and the probable impact it had on the vote. We also drew attention to the discriminatory and racist nature of the motion’s provisions targeting Israel, which seem to be inconsistent with charity law and with the Student Union’s charitable object of promoting the interests and welfare of students at Warwick University.

Following our letter, the Trustees have rightly refused to accept the motion, despite attempts by an organisation called “Apartheid off Campus” to pressurise them with a petition that has so far obtained 360 signatures.