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Boycott Calls Against Israel
BDS in Elite Universities: The Oxford Union Debate


Editorial Note

While it is not routine for Israeli newspapers to comment on debates of the hallowed Oxford Union debate society, many carried articles about the BDS debate in which Professor Alan Dershowitz who opposes BDS faced off with the human rights activist Peter Tatchell, a pro-BDS supporter.  Some of the articles used a sports metaphor to proclaim Dershowitz a winner after the votes were counted: Dershowitz - 136, Tatchell - 101.

The problem with this metaphor is that sports events are defined as zero-sum games, one side loses the other wins.  By definition, intellectual debates do not possess the zero-sum game characteristics.   The 101 students who voted for the BDS were evidently not persuaded by Professor Dershowitz. 

But the event is much more than a count of “yays and nays.” That the Oxford Union chose to host the debate is an indicator of how much the discourse on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has become embedded in the intellectual fabric of higher education.  Unlike its American Ivy League counterparts, Oxford University has never been a hotbed of BDS activism.  But the constant rehashing of the issue is bound to leave an impression on students as they work their way up to leadership positions. 

When failure succeeds", as coined by Samuel Edelman and Carol Edelman, the very fact that a BDS motion is debated on campus educates the student collective about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  




Oxford Union Backs Motion Opposing Israel Boycott

Prestigious debate society votes in favor of Alan Dershowitz-proposed motion entitled 'Is the BDS movement against Israel wrong?'


Nov 03, 2015 4:48 AM

The Oxford Union has reportedly backed a motion opposing the Israel boycott movement by a vote of 137 to 101.

According to a Jewish Chronicle report, noted U.S. attorney and academic Alan Dershowitz proposed the motion entitled "Is the BDS movement against Israel wrong?" to the prestigious debate society.

Dershowitz, who debated human rights activist Peter Tatchell, said the BDS movement is against the two-state solution.

"BDS is based on bigotry. If Israel was not the nation-state of the Jewish people, then this debate wouldn't be happening today," Dershowitz said, adding that "BDS will absolutely not bring peace. If the BDS movement is desirous of peace, then why will its leaders not debate me?"




ISRAEL NEWS By JOSH DELL \  11/03/2015 02:45

Final score: Dershowitz 137, BDS 101 

'I was told in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t win' Oxford debate, says US lawyer, activist. 

Lawyer, academic, and political commentator Professor Alan Dershowitz won over a packed debate on BDS at the Oxford Union, with the motion ‘Is the BDS movement against Israel wrong?’ being carried with 137 votes to 101.

The lively event on Sunday night pitted Dershowitz against British human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who has campaigned on various issues and notably attempted to commit a citizen’s arrest on Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in 2001.

Adopting a strong line against the movement’s leadership, Dershowitz argued that “BDS will absolutely not bring peace. If the BDS movement is desirous of peace, then why will its leaders not debate me?” Asked about the lack of official representative from the BDS National Committee, Oxford University responded that “it is the Union’s policy never to comment on our invitation process.” The BDS National Committee were unavailable for comment.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Dershowitz made clear he came to the debate well aware that as somebody talking in favor of Israel he was by no means guaranteed to be successful.

“I was told in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t win a debate in the Oxford Union because Israel generally loses,” said Dershowitz, who emphasized that the basis for his criticism of the movement stemmed from advocating neither for the Israeli government nor its policies, but the aims of the BDS movement.

In his view, “BDS is not an alternative to war as Tatchell said, but rather an alternative to negotiations for the Palestinians. The message to the Palestinian cause is clear, you don’t have to negotiate with Israel, you’ll get a state through external intervention.”

Peter Tatchell told the Post that despite Dershowitz’s assertions he was not an official representative of BDS per se, “it’s very important to remember that BDS is not a single unified campaign, even among Palestinians.”

“As I made clear in the debate, I support BDS with a somewhat heavy heart. For me it is a last resort because I can see no prospect of the Israeli government voluntarily agreeing to pull out of the West Bank and dismantle the settlements,” Tatchell said.

In his eyes, “BDS is a peaceful, nonviolent attempt to secure Israel’s withdrawal from the territories taken in 1967 and to secure a Palestinian homeland. I see it as an alternative to war and armed struggle in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.”

Tatchell’s response to the commonly touted accusation that BDS is a movement with an anti-Semitic element, was to state that “neither myself nor any of the people I know who support BDS are in any way anti-Semitic nor deny the right of Jewish people to live in peace with equality and security in the Middle East. Nearly all of us support a two-state solution that includes Israel.”

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