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Written by Student Rights on 12 December 2012 at 7pm

UCL referendum demonstrates a lack of critical thinking (Update: Motion passed)

UPDATE: The motion to "condemn the inhumane situation in Gaza" was passed by 1998 votes to 684.

This week Student Rights have been contacted by students at University College London (UCL) who have raised the issue of a referendum that is taking place at the university entitled ‘We condemn the inhumane situation in Gaza’.

Supported by the presidents of UCL’s Friends of Palestine, Anti-War, Amnesty and Islamic Societies, the vote seeks to ensure that the Student Union acknowledges the Palestinian right to self-determination, condemns the current situation in Gaza, and sets out proposals for a university boycott of Israeli products.

The language used in the motion, including phrases such as “the murder of civilians”, “military occupation” and “the Gaza massacre” has been highlighted to Student Rights as an example of “an anti-Israel motion” that is “pitting Muslims against Jews”.

There is also no mention of the role played by Hamas in making Gaza an intolerable place to live for those who do not support it, nor of the thousands of rockets fired by the group and its allies since Israeli forces withdrew from the territory in 2005.

As a result we have been told by one student that “I am deeply concerned about, and I actually feel threatened by, the referendum which is going on at the present moment in the UCL student union”, something the proposers are unlikely to have been aware of when the introduced the motion.

However, whilst the intellectual dishonesty in the motion is perhaps unsurprising given the fiercely partisan support for both sides that students on campuses across the UK exhibit, it also perhaps the less important side of the story.

What is more relevant is a clause that has been inserted into the motion which seeks to overturn Q3 of the UCLU Spring 2012 Referendum, which declared that the Student Union should “encourage public discussions between students on international affairs, including the Israel-Palestine conflict beyond the boundaries of student society meetings” and would “act as impartial mediator in these discussions”.  

Essentially this will lead to the UCL Student Union once again taking an inflexible and dogmatic opinion on an extremely complex conflict, something that will surely only lead to a decline in open and balanced debate.

When this is joined by events featuring highly biased panels, as happened at the School of Oriental and African Studies back on the 26th November, the result is both a hostile atmosphere for those who do not toe the Student Union line as well a hearty does of confirmation bias.

Critical thinking is key to studying at university and is one of the most important skills students will learn during their time on campus. By openly stating that they wish to overturn a motion which encourages discussion and debate the students who have proposed this motion are doing themselves a grave disservice.