Alumni for Campus Freedom Ireland (ACFI) is a group of Irish university alumni that have launched a campaign to oppose the support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements in Irish third-level institutions. The BDS movement, formed in 2005, is an international campaign that calls for support for Palestine through the boycott of Israel in many forms, including academic boycotts. ACFI has formed to reject the presence of BDS in Irish colleges, as they believe that ‘BDS policies have a chilling effect on discourse in third-level educational institutions and create a hostile environment for Jewish, Israeli and pro-Israel students.’
ACFI believe that support of the BDS movement against Israel is ‘counterproductive to the goal of peace, antithetical to freedom of speech and part of a greater effort to undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their homeland, Israel.’ In the realm of academia, ACFI believes that institutions of education should not alienate any group of people through a method as explicit as a boycott, ‘It is understood throughout the academic world that relations among universities transcend disagreements over the policies of governments.’
ACFI have founding members from most major Irish third-level institutions, including Trinity College, Dublin City University and the University of Limerick, but they do not yet have a representative from UCD.
On April 3rd 2018, UCD Students’ Union passed a mandate ‘for UCD Students’ Union to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement nationally, along with Amnesty International UCD.’ The mandate was proposed by then Welfare Officer Eoghan Mac Domhnaill and seconded by Graduate Officer Niall Torris.
In the UCDSU policy booklet, the Union recognises ‘that at least five categories of major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law characterize the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.’
UCDSU passed this motion easily, in fact, there is little to no pro-Israel presence on UCD campus. UCD does not have a Jewish student society and in the academic year of 2017/2018, only two students from Israel studied in UCD. On the other hand, UCD Islamic Society has a much larger presence on campus. Last November, they held a Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel discussion, in collaboration with UCD Law Society, on the Palestine-Israel Conflict. The panel did not feature a representative of the pro-Israel argument, but this was most likely due to the distinct lack of a significant Israeli or Jewish voice on campus.
The past two years have seen an increase in student outrage at Irish university’s ties with Israel. Most significantly in Trinity, a protest by a group called Students for Justice in Palestine led to the cancellation of a planned visit of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland to the college. Trinity’s Provost Patrick Prendergast strongly criticised the group and is adamant to maintain academic ties with Israel. In March of 2018, Trinity’s Students’ Union held a referendum and just over 64% of students voted in favour of their Union supporting a BDS campaign against Israel. Following this, in April of last year, a motion to support BDS put forward students from Queen’s University Belfast Student’s Union at the USI annual congress passed. Following this, in October of 2018, students protested the visit of the UK’s ambassador to Israel Mark Regev to Queen’s University. Furthermore, last week in the Dáil TDs voted to ban the sale of goods imported from Israeli settlements in Palestine. It’s evident that support for Palestine and BDS is growing, both within Students’ Unions and on a national level.
With UCD’s new University Alumni Club set to open in April, students should consider to what extent they believe alumni should be allowed to influence the university’s policy on political issues like this, especially when they aim to campaign against an issue that the Students’ Union has already been mandated to support?
Ultimately, the creation of this campaign group further highlights the divergence of opinion between students and the alumni and administrations of Ireland’s universities. ACFI state that ‘while students are entitled to act in support of political causes, university administrators must defend the reputation of their institutions in the international forum of respected universities around the world.’ While this apparent conflict between students’ beliefs and academics reputation has yet to gain traction in UCD, the creation of a group like ACFI signals that there may come a day soon when UCDSU will have to start acting on their mandate to support Palestine through a boycott of Israel.
By Muireann O’Shea – CoEditor