Students at the University of Exeter have voted overwhelmingly in support of a boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements. The referendum, which garnered 86% approval, generated the largest voter turnout in the history of the university.
Following Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza, a 50-day assault in which over 2,000 Palestinians were killed, Exeter Friends of Palestine, a student-led society, proposed a boycott of settlement goods to the Students’ Guild, whose purpose is to “represent the voice of the student body to the University.” The Guild turned the issue over to a student referendum after receiving hundreds of votes in favor of a democratic process for students to voice their position.
“The unprecedented turnout and high percentage of affirmative votes is a clear indication of the student opinion on this issue,” said May Muhtadi, co-President of Exeter Friends of Palestine. “Students are increasingly horrified by the actions of the Israeli government and are demanding accountability.” The campaign also received widespread support from the university’s faculty, including world-renowned historian Ilan Pappe. “I congratulate the group of students that ran the campaign,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
This referendum follows on the heels of a vote in August by the UK National Union of Students (NUS) 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.”
In increasingly desperate fashion, a vocal minority in opposition to the referendum actively campaigned against the motion, garnering only 13% of the vote. It is the opposition’s messaging, however, that is drawing increased ire from much of the campus community.
“They appropriated the Palestinian flag and purported to know what is best for Palestinians,” said Francesco Amoruso, a postgraduate student at the university. “This colonial mindset must be stopped in its tracks. They need to move aside so that Palestinians can speak for themselves.”
Indeed, campaign material produced by the opposition group featured the Palestinian flag as a background image while insisting their opposition is fueled only by concern for Palestinian workers. Their official statement claimed that the boycott “will do more harm than good for the Palestinian cause, and we should look into other ways to promote the human rights and statehood of the Palestinian people.” In response, Exeter Friends of Palestine have published an open letter to opponents of the boycott, demanding a public apology and issuing a challenge to a public debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“In regards to the opposition, they know what is right and what is wrong. They should apologize immediately for the tactics they employed during this campaign and agree to a public debate on the issue,” said Charles Phillips, co-President of Exeter Friends of Palestine. “In the meantime, we will continue with our work to contribute what we can to the quest for justice, equality and self-determination for Palestinians.