TCDSU President-elect Kevin Keane in controversy after speaking against Israel boycott

Students for Justice in Palestine allege that Keane has broken a pledge made during election campaign

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President-elect Kevin Keane has broken a pledge he made during the sabbatical officer election campaign to advocate for an economic and academic boycott of Israel in Trinity. On February 16, following 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, circulated by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is signed by Keane and dated February 15. Keane attended the debate wearing an SJP badge.

SJP contacted Keane last week with a view to gain his support for their motion, put forward at TCDSU Council on Tuesday, to mandate the SU to lobby for a boycott of Israel. Keane responded to Conor Reddy, who along with Stacy Wrenn proposed the motion, asking for a draft copy of the motion. Having read the motion, Keane requested a meeting with SJP on Monday, a day before Council. Keane told the SJP representatives that he could not support the motion in the form it was written. According to Reddy, no reason was given other than the fact that it would “not pass council” and that Keane felt change best occurs “incrementally”. Keane offered a compromise of a TCDSU awareness campaign which was unanimously declined by SJP.

Reddy told Trinity News that during the course of the meeting Keane was asked several times if he would speak against the motion at Council. Keane told SJP that he would not.

Despite telling SJP that he would not speak, Keane spoke against the motion at TCDSU Council. Keane opened his speech against the motion by saying that the SU should exist to “affect the community we have right here”. Keane mentioned a “chronic lack of student space”, higher education funding and repealing the eighth amendment as causes that TCDSU should be focusing their efforts on. The decision for Keane to speak sparked what Reddy described as an SU movement to “close ranks”.

During the campaign Keane also communicated support for SJP via his official campaign Facebook page. In a message sent to Kevin Quigley, a Junior Sophister Theoretical Physics student, Keane described an academic and import boycott as “something the Union should definitely look at supporting”. Keane also stated that he “actively support[s]” SJP’s work within Trinity and felt that “the SU should too”. Keane went on to say that if elected he would “sit down with the people who are experts and activists, and see what it is specifically they would like to see done”. Quigley told Trinity News that Keane’s pledge to support BDS was “the only reason I voted for him”.

Keane confirmed to Trinity News that he had signed the pledge and pledged support to SJP during the media hustings. Keane told Trinity News that through his “own fault” he had signed something that he had not “analysed to the extent that [he] should have”. Keane admitted that he had told SJP that he would not speak against the motion but that his decision to speak was “not a rejection of SJP”. Outside of running for a position and asking questions, Keane’s speech against the motion was his first time to speak to council.

When further questioned as to why he chose to oppose the motion rather than abstain from speaking, Keane said that there was “not a consensus” around BDS and given that it was such a divisive issue it would be “not fair” to have acted on it. Keane favoured an “incremental” approach to dealing with the issue so that the student body could be more informed and “contingencies” could be put in place. Keane believed that implementing BDS now would be “putting the cart before the horse”. Keane further elaborated that his decision to speak was a last minute decision and came after a conversation with current TCDSU President Kieran McNulty, who also spoke against the motion.