Historic Motion to Boycott Israel Passed During on going Occupation at Manchester University

Email: manuni@actionpalestine.org

On Wednesday 11th Feb the University of Manchester Students Union passed a motion in support of the people of Gaza, which includes a resolve to boycott Israel [1], after a week and a half long occupation of University of Manchester buildings by students [2].  The Emergency General Meeting which passed the motion was called in response to the crisis in Gaza, and was attended by around 1000 students. The University of Manchester Students Union is the biggest in Western Europe, and is also the first western students union to pass a motion which includes an out and out boycott of Israel.

The policy that was passed compared Israel to apartheid South Africa and supported the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. It called for the Union to divest from Israel, boycotting all companies which support or benefit from the Israeli occupation, and to lobby the University to adopt a similar boycott policy towards Israel. The motion also condemned the University for its lack of progress in divesting from arms companies. Following the meeting the union will send a letter to the BBC condemning their refusal to air the Disaster Emergency Committees (DEC) appeal for Gaza [3], as well as facilitating a day of fundraising with proceeds going to the DEC.

The occupation of University of Manchester buildings began on Wednesday 4th Feb, after an Emergency General Meeting called by the student society Action Palestine narrowly failed to make quorum amid numerous testimonies of the doors to the meeting being blocked by pro-Israel students attempting to prevent the meeting taking place [4].  More than 150 angry students then marched from the meeting to the main administration building of the university (the John Owens building).  The students occupied the corridor outside the vice chancellor’s office and agreed a set of pragmatic demands in support of Gaza.  The postal room of the university was also briefly occupied, before students left the John Owens building as the engineering building (the Simon building) was occupied by another group of students last Friday.  The occupation, currently in the Simon building, continues into its 10th day. 

The actions by students in Manchester are part of a nationwide surge in student activism in response to the recent Israeli assault on Gaza, and the growing humanitarian crisis happening there.  Manchester is one of 21 universities to go into occupation, many of which have met with success [5,6].  Teachers and lecturers have expressed support for occupations both locally, and nationally, with the lecturers union, the UCU, issuing a statement praising the occupying students [7].  The Manchester occupation has also received messages of solidarity and gratitude from the Student Council of An-Najah National University, which is twinned with the University of Manchester, and the President of The Islamic University of Gaza [8].

The Students at Manchester have a long history of showing solidarity with Palestinians, most notably in their affirmation of the “Palestine: Right to an Education” motion passed in 2007. This motion twinned our Union with the An-Najah University in the occupied West Bank, and committed the Union to campaign for the rights of Palestinian students. Similarly, the Students’ Union played an important role in the international solidarity campaign against South African apartheid by divesting the university’s funds from South Africa.


Of the new boycott policy, Matt Scholey, a first year Politics and Modern History student, said “This is going to set a precedent, more and more student unions will have the confidence to take similar step. Last year LSE SU called for divestment, now UMSU calls for a complete boycott, and tomorrow the rest of the student movement will follow suite.”

Sam, a Social Anthropology MA student, said of the occupations “Many people have asked, ‘Why are students getting active now?’ as if the abhorrence of Israeli action is not justification enough. In this occupied room all genders, faiths, races and ethnicities are welcome. We are united by a common cause; a desire for justice, an end to oppression.”

Hana Agil, Hebrew and Jewish Studies graduate, added “Don’t underestimate the importance this occupation has for the people in Gaza. When I spoke to my family and friends there they were so grateful for the support expressed by students here.”


Notes for Editor

1. For full details of the motion passed please see: http://www.umsu.manchester.ac.uk/downloads/gm_motions/egm_motion11.2.09.pdf

2. For more information see: https://manunioccupation.wordpress.com/about/ For the list of demands: https://manunioccupation.wordpress.com/list-of-demands/

3. The DEC is an umbrella organisation for 13 British charities.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/22/gaza-charity-appeal

4. http://www.student-direct.co.uk/2009/02/the-meeting-that-never-was/

5. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/students-are-revolting-the-spirit-of-68-is-reawakening-1604043.html

6. For updates on the nationwide occupations, please see: http://occupations.org.uk/

7. https://manunioccupation.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/lecturers-support-gaza-and-occupying-students/

8. https://manunioccupation.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/message-of-solidarity-from-an-najah-university/



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