The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union has teamed up with the UTM club Students Against Israeli Apartheid to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement—a Palestinian campaign begun in 2005 that uses boycotting and sanctions to oppose Israel’s alleged violations of Palestinian human rights—after receiving support from student campaigns.
On February 4, the UTMSU Board of Directors received approximately 700 signatures from SAIA to recognize the right of equal education for Palestinian civic society and to commit to identifying and divesting its involvement in companies that support or profit from Israel, whose activities in Palestine are widely considered to be oppressive human rights violations.
The mission of the controversial BDS campaign is to establish the rights of international refugees to return to their country, the freedom of those under military occupation in the Gaza Strip, and the full legal equality of Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel. By supporting BDS, UTMSU and SAIA hope express support for their attempts to find a solution to the conflict.
As well as protests and student activism, there are efforts by student lobbyists to persuade the UTM administration to terminate its affiliation with companies that they allege support war crimes and human rights violations, such as Hewlett Packard, Northrop Grumman, and BAE Systems.
“We are not advocates of a particular solution. We strictly target companies that violate international law,” said Shefa Obaid, a member of SAIA. “We petitioned the motion, collected over 700 signatures from students, and had open events constantly informing people. We feel that the only way to not be hypocritical is to let our voices be heard.”
“UTMSU hopes to engage in research and discussion on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign,” said Yasmine Yousef, UTMSU’s VP equity. “We are committed to a broad educational philosophy, especially in defence of the right to education for all students. UTMSU will continue to safeguard our members’ rights to organize on social justice and human rights campaigns.”
The situation in Israel is controversial, and not all international bodies have expressed unilateral opinions on it. The UN has not officially acted against the practices described as “Israeli apartheid”.
Apartheid was a policy of racial segregation in South Africa, where until two decades ago white citizens had significantly more legal rights than black citizens. Today, the term is extended by analogy to other situations in which one race is officially privileged over and oppresses another. In 1973, the United Nations officially defined apartheid as a crime. Some proponents of reform use the term “Israeli apartheid” to describe the situation at present.