Written by Student Rights on 4 December 2009 at 6pm

'Truly engrossing' - The first Student Rights event summary

The first event in our ‘We live in a Democracy’ series went off with an academic bang last night at UCL.

The event was a joint venture with UCL Human Rights Society on whether student unions should be taking international political stances drawing upon the Gaza-Israel conflict. It was spawned through recent actions by LSE, UCL and SOAS, to name a few institutions, who have taken stances in relation to this conflict through boycotts, motions and through twinning with universities.

In October this year UCL students voted to overrule a referendum that voted for the Student Union to take sides on the Gaza-Israel conflict. The speakers taking part in this debate were Professor Eric Heinze from Queen Mary University, Ben Soffa from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Oliver Cooper, journalist and former UCL student and Douglas Murray, the Director of The Centre for Social Cohesion.  The discussion was chaired by Student Rights' National Director Raheem Kassam.

Heinze started off the debate by putting a convincing argument forward for campus’ to ‘go for the worst’ and be actively engaged with as many issues as possible not to obsess over the Gaza-Israel conflict.  He went on to argue that peace was achieved through multilateral actions rather than things such as boycotts.  This was rebutted by Soffa who said that there were no restrictions for other groups to campaign on issues they supported. He went onto argue that students do care about international issues and students would not find these issues alienating.

Oliver Cooper took it back to student welfare issues and said that no international political stances should be taken by student unions, as it was not in their mandate to do so. SU’s are mandated for purely student welfare reasons, such as fixing the pool table, top-ups fees, student accommodation and so on rather than alienating some of the student body.  Cooper also struck a chord by statistically proving that it was a 55% majority of a 2% representation of the student body that passed the LSE motion. 

Douglas Murray argued against universities taking these ‘empty stances’ on issues that they had no sway over and wasted student resources and dampened the experience at university by creating an atmosphere of hostility and conflict on campus. In a debate of this nature there was bound to be some discussion on questions such as the nature of Zionism, whether Israel were committing crimes and if so, where they ranked internationally.  Whatever the emotions raised by these topics, the panelists remained calm and maintained and incredibly insightful discussion. The audience commented on how different this debate had been to others as it was ‘down to earth’ and 'truly engrossing'. 

Keep an eye out for future Student Rights events, coming soon to a campus near you!