A motion entitled ‘EUSA (Edinburgh University Students’ Association for Peace’), is to be brought to the Student Council meeting on Thursday (October 23). The motion, amongst other things, calls on EUSA’s Sabbatical Officers to “withdraw their statement on Palestine with immediate effect, issuing a clarifying Press Release to indicate that this has been done.”
The motion argues that EUSA’s sabbatical statement over the summer was based on “prior policies that gave no direct mandate to Sabbaticals to issue the said statement.”
The “statement” that the motion refers to was released by the sabbatical officers on July 31 this year. It condemned the Israeli government’s military assault on Gaza, reading: “ As a sabbatical team, we are horrified and completely condemn the Israeli Government military assault currently taking place on Gaza that has led to the killing of over 1300 Palestinians, with the majority being civilians.”
The statement went on to propose a number of actions, that EUSA would take, including putting donation boxes in Teviot, and lobbying the Scottish Parliament to fly the Palestinian flag.
The sabbatical officers clarified in their statement that their intentions were “in no way an attack on Judaism”
Despite this, the statement also cites that “EUSA is twinned with Birzeit University”. Birzeit University openly prohibits Israeli-Jewish students and lecturers from entering its campus.
Speaking to The Student, Jake Pearson, President of Edinburgh University Jewish Society, said: “I do not believe that the statement they have issued goes far enough in its understanding of how the issue of Israel and Palestine affects Jewish students on campus.
“This is something we as Jews care about deeply; but we know that it is a divisive issue, especially within our own community. I do not think it is in anyone’s interest to see a situation where the political protests of this university’s student union create an atmosphere that is genuinely hostile to Jews and Israelis.
“I personally believe that EUSA should take a non-partisan stance on this, and should do their best to help Israeli and Palestinian students on campus through creating dialogue, not circumventing it.”
The sabbatical officers originally justified the statement, by reference to two prior policies passed by the student council prior to July.
The first policy reads: “Mandate[s] EUSA to lobby the university to divest from companies that are complicit in the Israeli occupation, the siege on Gaza and discrimination against the Palestinian population within the declared state of Israel.”
The second, passed in February 2014 mandates EUSA to “condemn the persecution of students and student unionists in Palestine and raise awareness among our membership of this issue both generally and in individual instances.”
The motion proposed for this Thursday mandates EUSA to “put precedence on EUSA’s existing Safe Space policy above other policies, political views or statements to ensure that EUSA’s membership can feel included and safe in EUSA’s venues.”
The motion further explains the background to this: “Complaints have been made to some elected EUSA representatives by Israeli and Jewish students that they feel the statement made them feel unsafe on campus and unable to take part in any EUSA debate relating to this.”
Theo Robertson-Bonds, proposer of the motion, said: “The sabbatical statement was issued lacking any democratic mandate, and completely overlooked Student Council and the wider student body.
“Fundamentally, it failed to respect that EUSA’s membership is composed of many nationalities and faiths: our Union cannot interfere in a complex conflict and take a partisan perspective without risking the confidence placed in it by its diverse membership.
“The motion redresses this issue, and also mandates EUSA to both provide aid to societies campaigning for peace and dialogue, and to support those affected by the conflict. We all want to see a EUSA that’s democratic and representative of students’ concerns: this motion provides a clear basis for us to build upon.”
Speaking to The Student, Eve Livingston (Vice President Societies and Activities) and Dash Sekhar (Vice President Academic Affairs), speaking on behalf of EUSA’s Sabbatical Officers said: “In times of humanitarian crisis, organisations with financial and political power have a responsibility to speak out and help in any way they can.
“As the elected political leadership of EUSA, the sabbatical officers had to make a decision on how to do so over the summer in the absence of forums like student council, and we therefore took our lead from strong student feeling on the matter illustrated in previous policy and petitions – a reaction then echoed by other governments, charities, and local councils.
“Our statement and consequent actions were based entirely on principles of solidarity and aid, and we’re proud to have raised over £500 which will directly help our Palestinian counterparts; innocent civilians who continue to live in fear of losing family, friends and homes in the ongoing occupation of Gaza.”
The Student Council will take place this Thursday October 19 in Teviot. All students are welcome to attend and vote on this motion.