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.
Fourth year, political science