To be honest, I don’t know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don’t understand the history that led up to the situation, nor do I understand the cultures and the people involved. Still, an article in this week’s news section piqued my interest. As reporter Mudeeha Yousaf explores, the UTM Students’ Union voted in favour of endorsing the 2005 call of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against what is sometimes called Israeli apartheid.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last five years at UTM about the conflict, it’s that there is a clear divide in opinion on it—especially within our student body. Every year, election platforms and agenda motions arise from the student unions both at UTM and St. George concerning international matters. At last year’s student union election debate, students heatedly discussed the student union’s support of the highly controversial Israel Apartheid Week.
Keeping in mind that your student union represents your voice not only to the university, but to the provincial and federal governments as well, should they take sides on a controversial political issue? When one of their main goals is equity among all undergraduates, choosing sides could alienate the students they represent, especially when opposing parties have very different perspectives on what would bring justice and peace.
To provide context, the Canadian government’s position on the conflict is relatively diplomatic. Canada equally supports Israel’s right to “assure its own security” and Palestine’s right to self-determination and the creation of a sovereign state. Canada then affirms its commitment to comprehensive peace—the key word being “comprehensive”—to achieve a peaceful resolution for both parties.
Earlier this semester, we covered an event held by the Students Against Israeli Apartheid that brought activist Harry Fear to campus to speak about hardships in Palestine.
The following week, we received a letter from student Stan Fedun expressing his concern for the alleged one-sidedness of the event and his intention to offer a holistic view regarding the conflict.
Like I said, I don’t know enough about the conflict to cast judgement or offer my opinion and I don’t want to detract from the hard work of the Students Against Israeli Apartheid. I’ve heard many students recount stories about how their friends and families have been affected by the conflict. While I sympathize with the intention to support peace, I cringe at the idea that some students might have cause to feel disenfranchised by their student representatives.
When various governments and international organizations avoid taking a firm stance at the risk of misrepresenting citizens and members, it makes me wonder why student unions believe they should take a definitive stance. I’ve heard many students speak in favour of UTMSU’s motion, so now I’m curious to hear from students with opposing perspectives. What I can say with certainty is that—aside from equity issues—student unions that represent all undergraduate students on campus have no reason to take firm stances on controversial political issues.