DCU students campaign for campus BDS referendum

Students for Justice for Palestine group collects signatures on campus

Dublin City University (DCU) students are campaigning for a student-wide referendum to assert a stance on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The DCU branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched the referendum campaign last week with the aim of encouraging Dublin City University Students’ Union (DCUSU) to take a position on BDS in support of Palestine.

Speaking to Trinity News, DCU SJP Chairperson, Stephanie O’Toole, stated: “We want this referendum to be an opportunity for DCU to not be on the wrong side of history.”

“The issues of occupation and colonisation are not abstract concepts that occur ‘over there’, they are real, relevant, and very much a student issue”, O’Toole continued. “Ensuring that our Students’ Union represents all of us here at DCU, including the Palestinian students here on campus who are unable to return to their families and homelands because of a brutal regime of apartheid, is a student issue.”

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a pro-Palestinian student activism organisation. SJP is aligned with the BDS movement, which campaigns for various forms of boycott against Israel, including the boycott of Israeli fruit and vegetables, bulldozer brand Caterpillar, and IT company Hewlett Packard. The BDS movement began in 2005.

O’Toole asserted that with recent movements like Take Back Trinity, the Repeal campaign, and the housing movement, students “can be political”.

“Ultimately, we want our Students’ Union to take steps to implement the demands of Palestinian call for BDS. But we also want to build a culture of solidarity with Palestine on campus and reach as many students as we can,” said O’Toole.

The group is currently collecting signatures on campus, which it will present to DCUSU with a view to hold a referendum in the second half of the academic year, following the Christmas break.

“Our task as people in solidarity around the world is to put pressure on our governments, companies and institutions to take a stand for Palestine. That’s the spirit of this referendum,” said O’Toole.

In March, Trinity students voted for Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) to support the BDS movement with a 64.5% majority, with 2,050 students voting in the referendum. TCDSU President, Shane De Rís, and Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) President, Oisín Vince Coulter, expressed their support for BDS at the time of the vote.

Speaking to Trinity News in March, De Rís stated: “The Palestinian people have been suffering for far too long at the hands of the Israeli state and affiliated organisations and students must stand with them and advocate for their liberation.” Vince Coulter added that Trinity and TCDSU had a “long and proud history of fighting apartheid”, referencing Trinity’s stance against apartheid in South Africa, noting that Trinity should “show solidarity again with the struggle of the Palestinian people for peace, justice, and human rights.”

During the summer, Trinity’s SJP branch voiced their support for a boycott of Eurovision 2019 following the Israeli singer Netta Barzilai’s win in 2018. Speaking to Trinity News, SJP member, Sean Egan, stated: “I’m heartened by how many Irish artists already respect the boycott and SJP will be part of any campaign in order to spread a message of solidarity and artistic integrity.”

Provost Patrick Prendergast visited Israel in August in an official capacity representing Trinity, with an aim to “deepen engagement in the region”, sparking student opposition. Prendergast visited the region previously in 2015 when he signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is located in the occupied West Bank.

DCUSU’s most recent campaign “Save Our Shepherd” fought against the planned deportation of DCU student Shepherd Machaya, whose October 21 deportation was extended to February following the campaign. TCDSU and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) supported the campaign, with 80 students protesting outside the Department of Justice and Equality, and an online petition gathering almost 15,000 signatures.

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.