University of London (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
University of London

Call to divest from Israeli companies goes beyond student union’s objectives as a registered charity, say Jewish activists.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Jewish activists in Britain are weighing legal action against the University of London after a student union passed a resolution supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS), the Jewish Chronicle reported on Sunday.

According to the Chronicle, the City Student Union approved a motion “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 included a call for the university to divest what the resolution said was $500,000 in holdings in companies “complicit in Israeli violations of international law.”

The JC added that the vote was held on the fourth night of Chanukah, when most Jewish students were unable to participate and passed by a vote of 65-4.

However, in a letter seen by the paper, “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 JC wrote.

The UKLFI letter asserts that “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.” BAME is a British term referring collectively to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups.

The letter noted that the charity’s trustees have the authority to override student decisions that violate organization’s stated aims.

But there’s little likelihood of that happening. The chair of the board of trustees, Shaima Dallali who is of Sudanese and Tunisian descent, established the university’s Friends of Palestine Society.

Immediately after the Chanukah vote, she tweeted her pleasure with the outcome. “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.”

She also pinned a tweet at the top of her feed of a CSU statement of solidarity with the Palestinians during the Gaza war of May. The statement accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” and “dispossession.”

The CSU represents more than 18,000 students. A spokesperson for the CSU told the JC that the UKFLI letter would be discussed at the next meeting in January.

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