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13 July 2024

& Culture

SRVU endorses BDS movement after long debate

Student union SRVU passed a motion yesterday to endorse the BDS-movement against Israel. Not everyone within the union is happy with that. 'We’re endangering our relations.'

Student union SRVU has voted for a motion to endorse the BDS movement, which campaigns for a boycott against Israel. This means the union will insist that VU provides openness concerning its relations with Israeli institutions, that SRVU will engage VU in a discussion about Israel and Palestine and call for an academic boycott of Israeli organizations explicitly involved in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

The voting was preceded by an hours-long discussion which took the whole evening, because there was division about the issue within the SRVU, although those in favor of the motion seemed to form a large majority. The chair of the University Student Council, Guido Groenescheij (also representing the SRVU in the USC) advised against it. Not because he opposes the BDS movement, but because he fears it will hinder other goals of the SRVU (like in the recent past free sanitary products to fight menstruation poverty and student housing at Kronenburg) and also because he thinks it will harm relations with other parties within VU.

Empty show of values

Groenescheij fears the SRVU, by endorsing the BDS movement, will thereby “burn its bridges.” He thinks it’s up to other organizations to fight for Palestinian rights. He called the endorsement of BDS by the SRVU “an empty show of values without a clear idea of where we’re going.”

“Many people here weren’t even members of the SRVU a week ago”, Groenescheij said. There has been an active campaign on social media the past week, calling for people to register as members to be able to vote for the motion.

Indeed there were many brand new members present in an overcrowded room at the StudentenD0k in the VU main building. They pleaded passionately for endorsement of the BDS movement. “If one Palestinian child would be saved by burning all our bridges, that would be worth all the trouble”, one of them said.

Another new member solemnly promised that he, after acceptation of the motion, would also fight for the SRVU’s other goals. But he also said that those other goals are rather insignificant compared to what is happening in Gaza, where “tens of thousands of children are dying”. He said his study results suffer from his following the news all day, crying in front of the television.

Opportunistic members

People doubted Groenscheij’s claims that endorsing BDS would harm the relations with other parties. A similar motion had been passed the preceding year, when SRVU was under a different board, without any negative consequences. A board member remarked that the circumstances were different back then. There wasn’t a war going on and the passing of the motion remained unnoticed by the public.

Now there were 27 members, quite a few of them members just for the occasion, who were deciding for the rest of the 150 members that SRVU should endorse BDS. Groenescheij didn’t give up. “We are representing the students”, he said. “When there’s an issue concerning them, the board of directors comes to us, because they trust us.”

Sitting next to him was Hidde Smid, also of the USC, who also registered as a member, but to vote against the motion. In the USC, he is the only representative of the Liberal University Party. Smid confirmed everything Groenescheij said and promised he would annul his membership the day after the vote.

Whole lot of nothing

But there were also people in favor of the motion who had some reservations. A very eloquent young man said the motion was “a whole lot of nothing” and “a lot of words saying nothing”, meaning he found it all too vague. He also pointed out endorsement could have negative consequences, like accusations of antisemitism. “We may open the door for ugly things”, he said. During the discussion words like “genocide” and “colonialism” were uttered and he wondered if everybody took these qualifications for granted, or whether the more nuanced stance of the International Court should perhaps be used.

Other people had a more belligerent attitude. “Let VU take our space at the StudentenD0k”, someone said. “We will take them to court.” Someone else said that should relations be soured by the BDS- endorsement, SRVU should seek other relations. “With whom?” Groenescheij asked.

Not appreciated by everyone

Whether Groenescheij’s fears are justified, remains to be seen. In recent interviews Rector Magnificus Jeroen Geurts emphasized that no student or employee of VU would get in trouble because of their opinions about Israel. But when I, during one of the many breaks, spoke to Joep van Dijk, the former USC chair who moderated the discussion, he told me that not everybody in, for instance, the works council, an important partner of the USC, would appreciate an endorsement of the BDS.

Other issues were debated, like what the precise role of SRVU is (“propagating those exact values VU says are important”, someone said) and whether it was meaningful for the SRVU to support a boycott, since it wouldn’t even make a dent, as Groenescheij said (“We’re part of a much bigger movement that does make a difference”, was the answer). The discussion was certainly an interesting one.

The motion was passed in the end, after a long voting for a whole series of amendments.

6 responses

  1. I was there and took part of the discussion and i find it disappointing that only the arguments of the minority of the attendents (3 of the 30 or so) who were against the motion. The majority of the attendents were for BDS and their arguments should also be mentioned in this article

  2. But the arguments of those in favor of the motion are mentioned in the article, Iris. It’s also mentioned that they were in the majority.

  3. Yes they are mentioned, but scarcely. Sometimes they are mentioned briefly, but then a counterargument by the opposition is added as if that was the end of the discussion (e.g with whom?) . The arguments by the opposition are given more attention and are more fleshed out in this article, despite the fact that there were many (!!) different and incredibly strong counter arguments proposed, also by members that were in the board previously or in the advisory council (as roles are only mentioned for the members of the opposition, or if they are a new member). These strong arguments are either given a single sentence or cherry picked, while the arguments of the opposition are expressed in paragraphs and given their own headings. Even the part about ‘representing the student body’ and ‘the relationship with the board (and rector as mentioned somewhere in the debate but was conveniently left out)’ was, in my opinion, not a very strong argument, but none of the counterarguments (such as the fact that the union IS supposed to represent the student body, therefore the relationship with the board or management or even the rector is not more important than the will of the students, especially since the students and management have opposing interests already.) were even mentioned, although it was discussed at length. Some of the most important arguments were even left out completely, such as the fact that our university profits from their ties with these Israeli institutions that work very closely with the IOF and are directly responsible for discrimination, the violation of human rights and developing technologies to be used for surveillance and murder of Palestinians. In the end this article is still an unfair and unequal representation of the debate that occurred. Simply mentioning some pro-BDS quotes does not make it unbiased.

  4. Very biased article. Give 90% of the space to someone that disagrees with the motion and not the majority! Also on the past discussions within the SRVU where there were absolutely no problems with BDS, but since the new board was installed all of the sudden new members come in only to vote against it, what a coincidence! They even tried to stop the vote to take place, which was democratically decided in the past years! The motion passed and it looks like there are a lot of people who don’t want to accept it.

  5. I’m sorry you feel the way you do about the article, but I still think it’s a fair account of the discussion. Remember, I am a journalist, not a minutes secretary. There was someone present writing down everything that was said during the meeting and at a certain point, halfway, he said he had written down 40.000 words or something. I have to write a readable account of 800 words, which I still think is a tad long.

    My point: I have to make choices. Here’s why I made the choices I did (It wasn’t because I’m biased, not in the sense that I’m opposed to BDS, if that is what you mean):

    I can understand you think other things are more important than the things I wrote down, but that is because you took part in this discussion and I did not. As an observer I focus on things that stand out, are different, unusual, ruffles everyone’s feathers.

    Guido and Hidde opposing the motion for the reasons they stated ruffled everyone’s feathers. Everyone reacted to it, so therefore I made that the center of my piece.

    I present a selection of the counter arguments, but as you yourself remarked, you were the vast majority, there were many arguments, I simply can’t put them all in the article.

    Furthermore, much of what has been said, has been said so many times these past months, we wrote some of it down in other pieces, we’re following the whole Gaza-discussion closely, try to be everywhere, something is happing, as you may have read in our magazine or on this website.

    The two guys opposing the motion, that was the news, apart from SRVU passing the motion, of course. That’s all in the article. Sorry to read it doesn’t meet your standards.

  6. Iris, there were about 10 people against the proposal as it was presented in the room. In addition, to that the vote was only barely approved with a vote of 37 in favour, 35 against, and one abstention. While it may be true that your faction was the most vocal one, your faction was also the one who was spotted devaluing the arguments of others by unnecessary claps or laughters at times. Everything has a framing, while I don’t think the author of this piece did cover everything to a 100%, that isnt his job either. It would be better if you use this time to work out a plan how to proceed further, or register that in hindsight you could have avoided a long discussion with more work/preparation.


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