In the run up to NUS conference, I’ve received a request from some activists for more information about my position on Israel-Palestine.
I have produced this short statement because I believe the question of international solidarity is vital for the student movement – and also because I suspect some misinformation about what I think is in circulation.
Very briefly, I believe:
• That the Palestinians are an oppressed nation fighting for self-determination;
• That the Israeli government is responsible for the continuing brutal oppression of the Palestinians;
• That we should oppose and denounce the Israeli Occupation and everything that goes with it (the settlements, the Wall, seizure of resources) and support the Palestinians’ struggle against.
• That it is absolutely right for student unions including NUS to take a stance and take action on issues of international solidarity, including Palestine. NUS should back the Palestinians, in fact far more actively than it does now.
These are not issues of contention on the student left – and any attempt to pretend they are is misrepresentation.
What may be an issue of contention for some is that I believe supporting the Palestinian struggle should not mean seeking to destroy Israel.
We should oppose the Israeli government, its foreign policy and Israeli imperialism in all its manifestations – not the right of the Israeli people to a state if they want it. I believe a single state uniting both peoples would have many advantages, but it could only come about about through mutual agreement and reconcilation. The only viable demand for peace with some measure of justice today is an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel – not the kind of entity which the Israeli government wants to call a Palestinian state, but a genuinely independent state which has the same rights as Israel has.
In other words, I support the same policy as every British trade union which has a policy (ie the vast majority) and a very substantial section of the Palestinian people (very arguably a majority). Agree or disagree, this is a pro-Palestinian position.
I believe that our support for the Palestinians should be part of a broader policy of support for oppressed people’s fighting for self-determination around the world – for instance, the Tibetans oppressed by China, the people of Western Sahara oppressed by Morocco, or the Kurds oppressed by Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Boycott, divestment and sanctions
I have a long record of campaigning in support of the Palestinians – from demonstrating and taking part in occupations against Operation Cast Lead to organising a series of meetings about Palestine at Royal holloway (including one of a hundred people, this on campus where meetings about this issue did not previously happen). I took policy in support of the Palestinians to my student union. Most recently I helped organise last term’s national speaker tour with a jailed Israeli military refuser, Noam Gur.
Having said all that, I want to be honest and add that I do not support the call for boycotts, etc, of Israel. I have no objection to boycotting the settlements and settlements goods but I do not think wider boycotts are a good way to support the Palestinian struggle.
Again very briefly, this is for the following reasons:
• Boycotts are generally not very effective. Even in the case of South Africa (where I would have supported the boycott), it was not the boycott campaign but the growing strength and organisation of the black workers and poor in the townships which brought the regime to its knees. Positive solidarity with the Palestinians and with left-wing, anti-occupation forces in Israel is much better. One of the tragedies of the current situation is that some British trade unions have adopted the boycott – and then done very little.
• In so far as it is effective a boycott will strengthen the siege mentality on which the Israeli right and ruling class rely, and weaken the Israel radical left and anti-occupation movement. Specifically it is likely to hurt Israeli workers and drive them into the arms of the Israeli rulers. Thus it will hurt the Palestinian cause.
• Boycotts of Israeli academics and trade unions are even worse. There are good reasons why we do not boycott American, Russian or Chinese academics, even though these states also engage in terrible crimes at home and abroad. Nor do we boycott British or American trade unions, despite their long history of collaboration with British imperialism.
Rather than boycotting Israeli students, academics and workers, we should be linking up with the left wing within their movement to help in its fight to support the Palestinians.
I oppose the Israeli ruling class and its government and its imperialism, but I do not write off all Israelis as irredeemable enemies. I understand why many Palestinian activists and organisations support a boycott, and I sympathise with them, but I also respectfully disagree that it is a positive way to help their cause.
It is also worth noting that no one in the NUS presidential election election is arguing for NUS to take up general boycotts of Israel. Aaron Kiely may or may not support such a policy, but if he does he is not saying it. I prefer to be open about my stances.
Vote on my record
My record on international solidarity, including in support of the Palestinians, is clear. That is why my supporters include prominent Palestine solidarity activists – including many who disagree with me on two states and on the boycott. Our differences have not stopped them from supporting me, because they know I am pro-Palestinian and because they have seen my broader record in building a radical, fighting student movement.