This week has seen an overwhelming victory for the BDS campaign at Sussex University. In a campus-wide referenda with a record breaking turnout of over 2,000 students, 76% voted in favour of ending Veolia’s contract, while 72% voted in favour of boycotting Israeli goods (1). By voting like this, Sussex students have followed the call by different Palestinian civil societies to boycott Israel to put economic pressure until Israel is complying with international law and ends the occupation of Palestine.
The request to have a referendum on Veolia was made by the Sussex Friends of Palestine Society accompanied by a petition signed by almost 300 students. The positive result of the referendum made lobbying the university management to end the contract with Veolia official policy of the Students Union. Veolia is currently running the waste management on Sussex campus. Their contract is running out in January 2014. Therefore, it is very likely that the campaign to divest from Veolia becomes reality since it is now official supported by the Student Union. Furthermore, the referendum also helped to increased awareness of Veolia’s complicities in the occupation of Palestine, such as the running of segregated buses for Israelis and Palestinians and the use of Palestinian land for the disposal of Israeli waste.
The policy of boycotting Israeli goods is not a new policy but a rather renewal of an existing policy that was about to run out. In 2009, the Student Union already held a successful referendum making Sussex the first University Union in the UK that implemented the boycott of Israeli goods in its shops and food outlets. The results of the referendum in 2009 was very close with 562 votes for and 450 against the boycott. This time, however, the yes-votes more than doubled, showing a growing support for justice for Palestinians and the BDS movement.
This is also thanks to the successful campaign by the Sussex Friends of Palestine Society. Traditional methods were used, such as talking to students handing out flyers and stickers saying “Buying Israeli Goods is Funding Apartheid” and “Keep Sussex Clean: Say No to Veolia”. But also phones and internet were used sending out mass texts and emails urging people to vote. Plus, students changes their profile picture and cover photos on Facebook linking their classmates. This made the campaign very visible on social media increasing participation on the referendum and raising awareness about the BDS movement.
In addition, the opposing side failed to come up with reasonable counter arguments and failed to run a proper campaign. The Sussex Conservative Society signed up as the campaign team to all the no-sides of the referenda. However, they failed to do any campaigning by not turning up to the debate and not writing a statement for their side of the campaign in the Student Union newspaper. In addition, the Tory Society did neither manage to make any flyers nor to use social media to campaign. Rumours were going around campus that the Tories pulled out because they were still mourning the death of Margaret Thatcher. However, the few students who voted against the boycott and the lack of enthusiasm to actually campaign against BDS shows the shrinking support for the state of Israel among the student population in the UK.
As a result, Sussex students can proudly say that their institution is not only the first university to boycott Israeli goods but after the referendum has still the longest standing boycott policy. These referenda can be added to the list of further BDS victories, building a bigger pro Justice for Palestinian movement and inspiring other student societies to take action by boycotting Israeli goods and divestment of companies involved in the occupation such as Veolia.
By Hichem Maafi