Students react to NUS Israel boycott
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Despite previous peace talks between Israel and Palestine imploding in a cloud of shells and broken cease fires, there appears to be a glimmer of hope for resolution as discussions have continued in Cairo. However, whilst the region finds itself locked in political stalemate, people across the world have mobilised in their shared horror at the flood of images of houses, streets and schools consumed by smoke and ash as the death toll has steadily crept up. Many public figures have been eager to align themselves with pro-Palestine protest in what has become an endlessly divisive debate. While many, including prominent journalists such as Jon Snow and the ever-polemical Russell Brand, have offered pointed critiques of military tactics used in the Israeli offensive on Gaza some have gone further, including Lib Dem MP David Ward who claimed he would happily fire rockets at Israel if he were living in Gaza and George Galloway, who has vowed to make Bradford an unwelcome place for Israeli tourists. As protest marches spring up in support of a peaceful resolution, we have also seen synagogues torched in France and petrol bombs thrown in Germany. In the midst of the media storm, the NUS decided to back BDS, a global initiative that aims to increase both political and economic pressure on Israel, and has agreed to boycott Israeli companies. Reactions to the decision taken by the NUS have been mixed: some students have been unsettled by the decision and have criticised a lack of transparency. However, others have claimed it was a bold move and showed the NUS standing on the right side of history, as comparisons were readily made with support given by the NUS to Mandela in the height of the anti-apartheid struggle. “During South African apartheid, NUS took the decision to stand in solidarity with oppressed South Africans, making Nelson Mandela our honorary Vice-President. I believe we have acted in the same spirit today by deciding to boycott companies that facilitate the Israeli military's capacity to massacre Palestinians” argued James Elliott of the NUS NEC, who supported the motion. The motion represents a vocal condemnation of actions taken by the Israeli military, tactics which have been roundly condemned as “disproportionate” as UN schools and hospitals have been badly hit. The NUS is now preparing itself for an internal audit to ensure that it does not work with or support companies that have been complicit in aiding the Israeli military. However, the NUS NEC has also faced criticism due to the potentially divisive nature of such a decision taken by an institution charged with representing a diverse and multi faith student body. Some students have voiced fears that by adopting a stance, the NUS are encouraging students to pick sides in a complex debate that cannot be easily diluted. Beth Button, president of NUS Wales, voted against BDS as “there are more inclusive ways to take action” and confirmed that her position on BDS does not contradict her condemnation of the current situation in Gaza. The Union of Jewish Students has also expressed concern about whether the new NUS policy is conducive to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
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