The Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, representing more than 300,000 university students, has passed a motion to boycott Israel.
The motion, put forth by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) at CFS Ontario’s annual general meeting earlier this month, called on the federation to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Neither RSU president Rajean Hoilett nor CFS Ontario national executive representative member Anna Goldfinch responded to an interview request, but Goldfinch told Canadian Press that the motion “endorses a number of solidarity tactics that have been called for by Palestinian civil society,” and it passed unanimously.
The RSU passed its own BDS resolution last April, while the McMaster Student Union passed a non-binding resolution supporting it at its annual general meeting in March and University of Windsor undergrads endorsed it in a February referendum.
Hillel of Greater Toronto executive director Marc Newburgh suspects that there may not have been any opposition to the CFS motion because it was “slipped in… at the last minute.”
“It wasn’t on the agenda. It was brought forth at the last minute… and days later, it still hasn’t been published for review by [CFS} members,” Newburgh said.
Donald Sylvan, Hillel Ontario’s executive director, said in a statement that “the failure to abide by basic democratic principles and the bizarre focus on issues that are entirely irrelevant to the vast majority of students perhaps explain why the CFS is a rapidly shrinking organization.”
Newburgh said students are becoming fed up with their student unions.
“Students that I talk to on campus, and not just Jewish students, they are frustrated with their student unions, they are frustrated with the fact that student unions are not representing what students care about. They don’t want them to politicize campus.”
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies’ president and CEO Avi Benlolo released a statement that accused BDS supporters of trying to intimidate Jewish students and faculty. “The level of ignorance and anti-Semitism this move displays should be a wakeup call to university administrations and elected officials across Ontario and Canada,” he said.
Judy Zelikovitz, vice-president of university and local partner services for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said this latest motion is insignificant. “While the CFS can pass a meaningless resolution behind closed doors, boycott calls continue to be rejected by university administrations,” she said. “Not a single university in North America has endorsed a boycott of Israel. Across Canada, universities have been strengthening, not reducing, ties with Israeli schools.”
Newburgh agreed the motion won’t change how university administrations operate. “But what can we do to effectively combat the BDS movement? Students need to get involved in student government if, in fact, they want to make change on campus.”