UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

City University Students Union BDS motion cancelled following complaint to Charity Commission

The Board of Trustees of City University’s Students’ Union (CSU) has overridden an anti-Israel BDS motion passed by students on 1 December 2021.  This follows a letter from UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) to the Students’ Union’s Trustees and a complaint to the Charity Commission by StandWithUs UK Fellow, Begzat Mirayev, then President of City University’s Israel Society, made with the assistance of UKLFI.

As a result, operative provisions to promote divestment from “companies complicit in Israeli apartheid” and to include a commitment to the BDS movement within the University’s “Decolonise City” plans have been struck out of the motion.

On 28 November 2021 UKLFI wrote to the Trustees of CSU, just days before the vote on the motion was due to take place. UKLFI warned them that the motion would commit CSU to conducting a political campaign outside its charitable objects in breach of charity law.  UKLFI pointed out that it was the Trustees’ responsibility to override the motion and that if they did not do so, UKLFI would refer the matter to the Charity Commission.

UKLFI’s letter explained that CSU is a charity and it is unlawful for a charity to engage in activities that are not in furtherance of its charitable objects.  CSU’s charitable objects as set out in its Articles are: “the advancement of education of Students at City, University of London for the public benefit” in various ways.

CSU is therefore not entitled to engage in political action, such as promoting BDS against Israel, which does not advance the education of students at City University.

Furthermore, UKLFI argued, the BDS campaign would actually be liable to contradict CSU’s charitable objects. Extensive research at US universities has shown that BDS campaigns against Israel are correlated with antisemitic attacks on Jewish students.

For example, the Amcha Initiative found that “The best statistical predictor of anti-Jewish hostility, as measured by actions that directly target Jewish students for harm, is the amount of BDS activity.”

 This damages the welfare of Jewish students, contrary to the charitable object of advancing education by promoting the welfare of all students.

After the motion was passed, Begzat Mirayev, a postgraduate law student at City University, wrote to CSU’s Trustees asking them whether they had accepted the BDS motion, as he had heard; and, if so, why they had accepted it, despite UKLFI’s letter.

Shahd Haj Khalil, CSU Vice President Community and Wellbeing, replied on 23 February 2022 that the Trustees had considered UKLFI’s letter and previous legal advice relating to BDS, and had decided thatthe motion is within the charitable objectives of the Union and compliant with Charitable Law, so no further action is required. The motion will be published on the Union website and is active policy of the Union.”

The email signature included the slogan “SAVE GAZA! FREE PALESTINE”.

On 28 March 2022, with UKLFI’s assistance, Mr Mirayev submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission on behalf of the University’s Israel Society and himself, on the ground that

“the campaign mandated by the motion is a political campaign, that does not support the Charity’s objects, which are the advancement of education of students at the university for the public benefit in various specific ways. The objects do not include conducting an extraneous political campaign that does not advance education at the university. We therefore believe that it is unlawful for the Charity to conduct this campaign.”

The complaint drew attention to the points made in UKLFI’s letter to CSU’s Trustees and suggested that the issue may not have been considered objectively since it had been reported in the Jewish Chronicle that the President of CSU and Chair of the Trustees, Shaima Dallali, had posted Tweets supporting the destruction of Israel.

Ms Dallali was subsequently dismissed as President of the UK National Union of Students after allegations of antisemitism were upheld. However, she is disputing these findings.

The Charity Commission has now told Mr Begzat that it has concluded its assessment of his complaint and that CSU had decided to override the BDS motion.

According to CSU’s Decision “The Union Board of Trustees engaged openly at all stages with the Charity Commission and … agreed to seek further legal advice from [solicitors] Bates Wells … The Board, based on this new legal advice, took the decision to override the motion, on the basis that it may be inconsistent with charity law ….”

The overridden policy is now provided on CSU’s website with the resolves section struck through.

Begzat Mirayev said: “It gives me great pleasure to contribute positively to this fight against antisemitism and ensure that my people are safe. I thank UKLFI for their support in defeating the ill intent of those who support BDS. I couldn’t have achieved this without my community, UKLFI and people around me”.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, commented: “Most students’ unions at UK universities are registered charities with the charitable object of advancing education at that university. They have substantial resources and facilities, so it’s important to ensure they are not used to promote extraneous political campaigns, especially campaigns such as BDS against Israel that are liable to result in targeting Jewish students for harm. We have successfully argued that student union BDS motions were unlawful at more than twenty universities.”

Students concerned about BDS resolutions or other anti-Israel conduct at universities in the UK and around the world can contact UKLFI for assistance at