University of Melbourne Student Union reverses course on BDS after backlash

Prospect of litigation prompted the student body to retreat from its position.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Australian Jewish leaders on Thursday welcomed a decision by the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) to scrap a motion endorsing the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, after an outcry from school officials and Jewish leaders and a lawsuit filed against the body over its singling out the Jewish state for opprobrium.

According to The Australian Jewish News, UMSU’s “countless meetings” with the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) and the prospect of litigation prompted the student body to retreat from its position, the Jewish group said.

The UMSU motion, passed in April, had supported Palestinians’ right to “engage in self-defense against their occupiers” and deemed Zionism to be a “racist, colonial ideology.”

“AUJS and Melbourne University Jewish Students Society welcomes today’s decision by the UMSU University of Melbourne Student Union to rescind the resolution,” AUJS said on Thursday. “The original UMSU motion was put forward over the objections of Jewish students. UMSU attempted to define Judaism, Zionism, and antisemitism in a way that solely reflects the views of a fringe group of Israel-haters but bears no relationship to the lived experience of the Jewish people.”

Jeremy Leibler, president of Zionist Federation of Australia, said that “rescinding the motion is an excellent first step to help heal the wounds the student union caused,” according to the outlet.

“We sincerely hope their reason for doing so is because they’ve recognized how bigoted the motion was,” he continued, “and not just because a student threatened legal action.”

UMSU’s endorsement of BDS had already been rejected by the school’s own administration, which condemned it as “antisemitic” and contrary to “who we are and what we stand for.” The university also distanced itself from UMSU, telling the Australian outlet J-Wire that it is “a self-governing body and operates as a separate entity to the university.”

The student resolution preceded several similar efforts at Australian universities, including a declaration of “solidarity with UMSU” by the Australian National University Students’ Association, and a May 5 motion accusing Israel of “genocide” passed at the University of Sydney.