Poor form passing the motion

In last week’s edition of The Medium, Yasmine Youssef, VP equity of the UTM Students’ Union, defended the union’s position to endorse a motion of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel (“When to choose a side”, March 18). The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is both complex and emotional. But for BDS proponents, the goal seems to be tearing down Israel rather than supporting Palestine. Instead of seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation, BDS singles out residents of the only liberal democracy in the Middle East—Israel—for economic punishment.

I find it rather hypocritical that Ms. Youssef uses the UTMSU constitution to defend the union’s decision. That very same document includes a mission statement that aims “to safeguard the individual right of the student, regardless of race, colour, creed, sex, nationality, place of origin, or personal or political beliefs”. By passing a boycott motion, the union is clearly in contradiction of its own mandate and in violation of this most basic principle. A boycott of Israelis represents nothing less than discrimination against Israeli academics and students on the basis of national origin.

The very idea that individuals should be blacklisted because of the decisions of their government is fundamentally offensive. Can you imagine a boycott of American scholars during the Iraq War in protest of the policies of George Bush? Or to put it another way, can you imagine Canadian academics being boycotted on European campuses simply because our government has sent troops to Afghanistan? This sort of nasty, counterproductive, and discriminatory approach is exactly what underscores efforts to single out Israelis for boycott. This includes those Israelis who have spent their lives advocating for peace, who would likewise find themselves blacklisted by a misguided student government on our own campus.

The vast majority of students expect the students’ union to deal with actual student issues like tuition fees, student services, and the quality of campus life. It is downright bizarre that students’ union meetings would come to resemble a debate club that has delved into the Middle East conflict. How is this in any way consistent with the union’s mandate to represent all students? And shouldn’t such debates take place on campus—in shared spaces, classrooms, and elsewhere—but have no place in a body tasked with advancing our collective student interests?

Perhaps the most serious issue that has not been mentioned in the pages of The Medium is that there was no notice given that a meeting of the board of directors (where the BDS motion passed) was even taking place. It is unacceptable that they failed to provide any notice of the meeting or provide a meeting agenda. A minimal standard of accountability holds that the board of directors must not be allowed to act in secrecy outside of the watch of the student body. This motion was not passed at an annual general meeting where all voices can be heard, but at a meeting where only a miniscule number of representatives are present. There was no opportunity to voice an alternative viewpoint to those of anti-Israel activists, demonstrating an inability or disinterest on the part of the union in reflecting a diversity of student opinion. For Jewish and pro-Israel students, the failure of the union to appreciate the complexity of this issue and the impact of a boycott of Israelis is deeply alarming.

It is critical that members of this students’ union not allow our student government to be misused in such a reckless manner. I urge my fellow students who care about openness and good governance to tell union representatives that we expect our student government to spend its time—and our hard-earned student fees—advancing the interests of all students rather than debating divisive foreign policy issues.

 

Stan Fedun

Fourth year, political science

  • Very well said. This is how i feel about it too.

  • Students Against Israeli Apart

    BDS Movement Position on Boycott of Individuals

    “The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition of Palestinian unions, mass organisations, refugee networks and NGOs that leads and and sets the guidelines for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, supports all principled action in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality that is in line with universal human rights and international law.

    In its 2005 BDS Call, Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Israel, its complicit institutions, international corporations that sustain its occupation, colonization and apartheid, and official representatives of the state of Israel and its complicit institutions. BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with.

    The global BDS movement has consistently adopted a rights-based approach and an anti-racist platform that rejects all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

    These guidelines and the fact that BDS has been initiated and is led by Palestinian civil society are major reasons behind the rapid growth and success that the BDS movement has enjoyed around the world.”

    http://www.bdsmovement.net/2013/bds-movement-position-on-boycott-of-individuals-10679

  • Students Against Israeli Apart

    BDS Movement Position on Boycott of Individuals

    “The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition of Palestinian unions, mass organisations, refugee networks and NGOs that leads and and sets the guidelines for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, supports all principled action in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality that is in line with universal human rights and international law.

    In its 2005 BDS Call, Palestinian civil society has called for a boycott of Israel, its complicit institutions, international corporations that sustain its occupation, colonization and apartheid, and official representatives of the state of Israel and its complicit institutions. BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with.

    The global BDS movement has consistently adopted a rights-based approach and an anti-racist platform that rejects all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

    These guidelines and the fact that BDS has been initiated and is led by Palestinian civil society are major reasons behind the rapid growth and success that the BDS movement has enjoyed around the world.”

    http://www.bdsmovement.net/2013/bds-movement-position-on-boycott-of-individuals-10679

    • Luke

      Actually, it’s not a foregone conclusion if you bother to do a little research. Yes, you can quote a pro-BDS website, but I suggest also getting a more well-rounded view of the issue from the Wikipedia article. Read not only the Supporters section but also Criticisms. One of the things I saw, as I posted on Yasmine’s letter, is that BDS is controversial in at least three aspects: its mission; whether it adheres in practice to what it says its mission is; and whether it’s effective. One prominent criticism that has been raised about it is exactly the validity of this claim in its mission. (Of course, reading Wikipedia, it’s always a good idea to follow the sources if you want to know more.)

      Here’s the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boycott,_Divestment_and_Sanctions

      It’s also worth noting that whatever is actually the case, the mere fact that such controversy exists—not only in the student body, as we can plainly see, but also internationally—makes it inadvisable to pass the motion. (I also happen to agree with Stefanie and Stan and some other commenters that the student union isn’t really designed to take major international stances of /any/ kind.)

      • Luke

        *anticipates standard downvotes*

  • Hanna C

    I think passing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a great thing. I actually disagree with the arguments in this article. The BDS motion is definitely a non-racial movement, and for this reason, I disagree with the following statement: “A boycott of Israelis represents nothing less than discrimination against Israeli academics and students on the basis of national origin.” The BDS movement is not designed to discriminate against Israeli students or academics. This movement calls for boycotting and sanctioning companies that aid the Israeli military in denying the Palestinians of their most natural rights and freedoms. The end goal of this motion can be summed up into two parts: (1) recognizing full equality of Palestinian citizens in Israel and (2) ending the occupation in Palestine. I don’t think this is too much to ask for. This is the least we can do to help our brothers and sisters living under occupation.

    Chomsky says, “And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to
    appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest
    open-air prison, where some 1.5 million people on a roughly 140-square-mile
    strip of land are subject to random terror and arbitrary punishment, with no
    purpose other than to humiliate and degrade.”
    (This is the link: http://www.towardfreedom.com/middle-east/3033-chomsky-on-gaza-a-look-at-life-under-occupation)

    Every movement has its critics. Those against the BDS motion take the stance that it is an anti-Semitic movement that hopes to destroy the Israeli state, “These BDS advocates single out Israel as a cover for rank anti-Semitism. It is not about saving Palestinians (who mostly need to be saved from themselves and their leaders); its purpose is to delegitimize and destroy Israel” (http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/01/29/taxpayer-funded-bds-at-cuny-is-illegitimate-racist-and-anti-semitic/). How does sanctioning and boycotting companies that aid in the occupation of Palestinians call for the destruction of a state? This motion hopes to stop these practices. I see the controversy with other forms of dictatorship in the Middle East. There is dictatorship in the Middle East, but this does not mean that it is being overlooked. The controversy here cannot be ignored, but one must also consider that it takes time, and these dictatorships aren’t bound to last forever as seen with Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya. People all
    around the globe deserve to live a just life. We are all entitled to the same
    rights and responsibilities and no state (or person) should have the power to
    deny such rights to other human beings. The crisis in Syria isn’t being
    ignored, but for now, it’s a civil battle. “The United Nations and the League of Arab Sates cooperate to help explore a peaceful political solution to the conflict in Syria through the Joint Special Representatives for Syria.” (http://www.un.org/wcm/content/site/undpa/main/activities_by_region/middle_east/syria)

    I’m going to jump into a completely different aspect of this conflict. Apartheid is the discrimination/segregation of people on the basis of race. Israel is often analogous to South African apartheid. Israeli apartheid is practiced on the Palestinian people. This is proven by the: “Jewish- only settlements, separate roads for Israeli and Palestinian citizens, military check-points, etc.”

    I think this is an interesting read: http://rt.com/news/israel-apartheid-survey-098/.

    • Luke

      P.S. Every movement does indeed have its critics (not that that dismisses their criticisms), and as it happens, Chomsky—whom you rightly cite as a strong advocate for Palestinian rights—is against this particular one:


      Noam Chomsky, the 2011 Sydney Peace Prize recipient and a prominent activist for Palestinian human rights, has stated that he supports the “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories” [61] but that anything that targets Israel alone can be attacked as antisemitism and “unfortunately this is with justice”.[62] According to Chomsky, the current BDS movement’s “hypocrisy rises to heaven”. He stated that the BDS campaign harms the “whole movement. It harms the Palestinians and it is a gift to the Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”, because the BDS’s “hypocrisy is so transparent… why not boycott the United States?.. Israeli crimes [are] a fragment of US crimes, which are much worse”. He also argued that the Palestinian people don’t support boycotting Israel and that the BDS movement is run by “one man NGOs” who falsely claim to represent the Palestinian people.[62][63] In the same interview, he also criticized BDS founder Omar Barghouti for advocating a full boycott of Israel, despite having studied at Tel Aviv University. Chomsky officially supports a more focused boycott of firms who are directly participating in the occupation of the West Bank, rather than a wholesale boycott of everything Israeli.

      (Wikipedia)

      The goals a campaign claims to have may indeed be desirable without the campaign being a good means of seeking them.