Israeli embassy sent letter pressuring TCDSU over boycott motion
The Israeli embassy in Ireland sent a letter to the current Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kieran McNulty warning against passing a recent motion concerning Israel at the most recent TCDSU Council.
The letter, seen by Trinity News, was sent by the Deputy Israeli Ambassador Orli Weitzman the day before the most recent Council. The letter states: “As you are aware Trinity has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, and tomorrow’s motion on Israel may only serve to confirm the impression given by the media that TCD students seek to smother free speech”
It continues: “While both you and I know this to be untrue, the motion before Council tomorrow would certainly send out a different message to the world…We would stress that any moves by the union, be they reactionary or proactive, should be to work towards the promotion of peace in the Middle East.”
Praising the Society for International Affairs (SoFIA) for seeking to “open a dialogue and get people talking”, the letter warns against unbalanced information, allegedly allowed for in the motion, to hinder debate. “The motion tomorrow calls for the SU to provide information about Israel and Palestine, it is clear from the wording of the motion is that the intent is for this information to be unbalanced and shut out an entire side of the debate on the issues within the region.”
Weitzman also references a competition, entered by Trinity students, to win a free trip to Israel and warns that the motion “might prevent any TCD students from entering the competition in future years”. The letter also goes on to reference Trinity’s links to Israel and Israeli academic institutions.
Following a phone call with the Israeli embassy, McNulty promised in an email to “ensure that the debate is informed and that we take an informed decision, based on research and facts”.
The motion in question mandated to “to set up a student-led Palestinian solidarity campaign group via the SU, to support a College-wide boycott of the state of Israel on anti-apartheid grounds, to lobby for the divestment of university funds from Israel and termination of any contracts with companies complicit in the occupation of Palestinian territories and violation of Palestinian human rights more broadly”, and “to affiliate to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”.
The motion, proposed by a Science class representative Conor Reddy, failed. Three current sabbatical officers spoke against the motion. TCDSU Welfare Officer, Aoibhinn Loughlin, described it as a “drastic stance”, continuing to say that “we need to think about the impact of this”. Communications and Marketing Officer, Glen Byrne, remarked that “this is a motion which the Students’ Union has negligible impact on”, and added that it would bring negative publicity for the union, as well as breaking down trust between the union and its members. President McNulty said: “If you’re voting for this, you’re taking away from the union’s work on accommodation, student spaces and fees.”
McNulty told Trinity News: “The letter had absolutely zero effect on my speaking against the motion.” He went on to say in a further statement that “The accusation that the SU made any ‘concession’ is completely ridiculous. Indeed, I informed SJP that I was against the motion hours before the letter was received. This is not a matter of us being bent by anyone – I have my views on what the SU is capable of taking on as the president’s workload and that is what I focused my points on – that we should choose what to focus on as an SU.”
Glen Byrne told Trinity News that “I was speaking on the nature – not the substance – of the motion, and the impact this would have on students who don’t regularly engage with the Union. My position was informed by my experience as the communication officer in the context of Trinity, not by either the Palestinian or Israeli sides of the substance of the argument.”
In addition, TCDSU President-elect Kevin Keane has faced criticism this week for speaking against the motion, saying on the night that “the SU should exist to affect the community we have right here”. It emerged that Keane had assured the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group that, while he was not in a position to support the motion, he would not speak against it. During his sabbatical officer campaign in February, Keane made a pledge in support of the BDS movement. Following questioning at the joint Trinity News and University Times media hustings, Keane pledged his support “for non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel on human rights grounds. To advocate the full academic and economic boycott of Israel by Trinity College Dublin, in accordance with guidelines laid out by the Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott and the global BDS movement.” The pledge is signed by Keane and dated February 15. Keane also attended the media hustings wearing an SJP badge.
Speaking to Trinity News, SJP said it “condemns this intervention in students’ union politics by the Israeli embassy as cynical, inappropriate and mendacious. It is the view of the SJP campaign that in spite of the Deputy Ambassador’s claim to holding a respect for freedom of expression and student discussion on campus, this action by the Israeli embassy betrays an unsettling disregard for the democratic process of the TCDSU…The SJP campaign regrets what appears now in hindsight to have been the concession made by the TCDSU sabbatical officers to the pressures and unreasonable claims made by the Deputy Ambassador in that communication. Whether or not the trend of embassy pressure and SU capitulation continues, the SJP campaign remains committed to the principles of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The Israeli embassy has slandered us before and after the protest, their press release was insulting and intemperate.”
On February 20, approximately 30 SJP protesters prevented the SoFIA question and answer session with the Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Ze’ev Boker, from taking place. Ciaran O’Rourke, one of the founding members of SJP, was fined €150 after attending two meetings with the Junior Dean, Professor Tim Trimble, on February 22 and 28. The reason for the summons was “conduct which frustrates the purpose of holding a previously authorised College event”. He was presented with two disciplinary options – an immediate fine or a committee hearing – with O’Rourke choosing the latter, resulting in the fine.
At time of publication, Trinity News were awaiting comment from both the Israeli embassy and a College spokesperson.
Updated Thursday, April 13 with additional comment from Kieran McNulty and Glen Byrne.
Additional reporting by Oisín Vince Coulter.