University of London faces legal action over BDS vote

City Student Union vote to call upon the university to divest from 'Israeli violations of international law'


University of London (UK) - Senate House building.

Legal action is being threatened against the University of London after one of its student unions supported a boycott of Israeli companies.

The City Student Union (CSU) passed a motion by 65 votes to four to incorporate the BDS movement into its “Decolonise City” campaign, which it describes as an “anti-racist campaign aiming to centre black and minoritised students at the heart of our institution”.

It called on the university, which it claimed invested more than £500,000 in companies “complicit in Israeli violations of international law”, to divest “as per their ethical investment policy”. It was proposed by the Friends of Palestine Society and voted on during the fourth night of Chanukah, meaning many Jewish Society members did not attend.

In a letter seen by the JC, UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI) warned that it would be “illegal” for the student union, a registered charity, to support BDS because it was not in line with its stated charitable objectives, of which its primary one is “the advancement of education of students”, which includes “promoting the interests and welfare of students at City”.

The charity’s trustees have the power to override decisions made by student members if they are in breach of the stated aims of the organisation.

But in a statement, the Friends of Palestine Society, warned the trustees that they would be “failing City students and democracy” if they failed to support the motion.

And Shaima Dallali, chair of the Board of Trustees, tweeted after the vote: “So proud of CityFOP for passing the BDS motion at today’s AGM, affirming the commitment of City students towards the liberation of Palestine and towards decolonialisation.”

The UKLFI letter states: “Students are entitled to support a political campaign as individuals, provided they do so in a lawful way.

"They are not entitled to have CSU conduct the campaign because it is a charity, and its resources, facilities and time of its staff and officers may only be used to promote its charitable objects.

“There is a fundamental distinction between a campaign to improve the environment for BAME students at City University and a campaign to promote the cause of Palestinians against Israel. The former is in principle within CSU’s charitable objects, the latter is not.”

A spokesperson for CSU confirmed that it had received the letter and would consider it at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of January. A university spokesperson said it did not comment on any proposal from the CSU until it had been presented by its officers.

When a similar motion was passed in 2018 vote, Jewish students who spoke out against the BDS motion were told to “shut the f**k up”.

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