Student referendum on cutting Trinity ties with Israeli universities to be proposed

Final-year student Oisin Vince Coulter is to propose a motion calling for the referendum at tonight’s SU Council.

news1A motion calling for an SU referendum that would ask students whether they would want the SU to campaign for College to cut its ties to Israeli third-level institutions is to be raised at tonight’s SU council meeting, Trinity News has learned.

Oisin Vince Coulter, a final-year philosophy and classical civilisation student, is planning to present the motion and spoke to Trinity News yesterday about the reason he decided to do so. Currently, he said, Trinity has ties with a number of Israeli universities and severing these ties “would have a tangible impact on those universities”. He said it would send “a strong message that we feel that Israel needs to shape up, that they need to stop what they are doing in the West Bank” and that their universities need to cease all involvement in military programmes. This action, he went on to say, would also link Trinity to “a broader campaign, across many universities both in Europe and in America, to divest from and boycott connections with Israeli universities.”

Asked about the level of student support that he anticipates for the motion, he said that he is hopeful that it will receive a favourable response. Trinity students have “a very long history of anti-apartheid activism… [and] of taking strong stances on issues like this,” he explained, citing as an example the renaming of “House Six” as Mandela House. “Considering Trinity’s current links with Israeli institutions,” he continued, “including those involved in… [Israeli] military programmes, I think a lot of people, when they hear the facts, are going to support it.”

If a referendum is held following tomorrow night’s motion and if the referendum is successful, he expects an initially mixed reaction from college staff and authorities. “I know some of the academics are already on board and are involved in the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign,” he said, but, “in terms of the higher up people who would be involved in, what one might call, the more business end” of College, “I imagine that they are not going to be too keen on it.”

Despite this, he remains optimistic that “if there is a grassroots movement from the students saying that they don’t want to be supporting Israeli violence and all of the horrible things that Israel is currently doing” then College authorities ultimately “won’t have too much of a choice” in the matter. This would be helped, he said, by the fact that the Graduates Student Union has already passed a similar motion and by the precedent of the 1970s when College boycotted apartheid South Africa. It could take “a year or two,” Coulter admitted, but he believes that if an SU campaign does go ahead it will eventually be successful in its efforts. He added that a campaign would offer “an opportunity for TCDSU to really be on the right side of history on something” and expressed hope that all student unions and universities across Ireland would come to adopt a firm stance on the issue.

The move comes after ‘TCD Apartheid-Free Campus Campaign’, a student campaign calling on College to cut its links with institutions and companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestine, received the endorsement of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) earlier this year. A motion passed by 33 out of 56 votes at the union’s council meeting in November pledged support for the campaign as it looks to raise the issue at board level.

Photo: Ciaran O’Rourke, coordinator of the TCD Apartheid-Free Campaign, on a poster run in the Arts Block in November.