The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) approved a resolution supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel at its annual general meeting on Nov. 19, but Israel advocacy groups on campus say the impact on students is likely to be minimal.
The CFS, which represents 530,000 students, also approved supporting “different Palestine-solidarity organizations,” with in-kind support and financial donations of up to $500. The resolution also recommended that “a statement be released to our membership condemning the recent atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza.”
However, pro-Israel advocates on campus point out that BDS votes have been unsuccessful on many campuses and argue that the CFS is out of touch with students.
“The impact this will have on Jewish students at the local level is quite minimal. Most students, not just Jewish students, recognize that the CFS is not a body that speaks on behalf of students in Canada,” said Ilan Orzy, director of advocacy for Hillel Ontario, which covers nine universities and 14,000 Jewish students in the province.
“There is a lot of outrage and a lot of students are feeling very upset by this, but it’s no secret that that the CFS has been very supportive of the BDS movement in general.… BDS resolutions have been defeated over and over again at different campuses across the country, not only (because) of the divisive nature of them, but the fact they don’t have very much relevancy to the day-to-day life of everyday students.”
The CFS represents undergraduate students at only about half of the nine campuses covered by Hillel Ontario. Universities in British Columbia and Quebec have also parted ways with the national organization.
At the University of Winnipeg, a BDS motion was defeated last year and the University of Manitoba student union voted against the motion at the CFS’s meeting, said Arielle Branitsky, the leadership and engagement director for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. “The CFS is increasingly losing touch with their constituents. This isn’t what their students want.”
In a statement released shortly after the CFS vote, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs noted that no university administration in North America has endorsed BDS. In 2013, Canadian universities signed an agreement with their counterparts in Israel to promote research, as well as student and faculty exchanges.
BDS resolutions have been defeated over and over again at different campuses across the country.
– Ilan Orzy
“The biggest danger of this resolution is that it could embolden anti-Israel student activists on campus and that’s what we need to work to help stop,” Robert Walker, the executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, told The CJN. “But there’s no question that most open-minded students are not taking their directives from the CFS. They’re making up their minds for themselves and that’s why the vast majority of students in this country do not support BDS.”
In the apology that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered in the House of Commons earlier this month for Canada’s refusal to allow Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis to land in Canada in 1939, he reminded the country that anti-Semitism is “still far too present.”
Taking aim at the BDS movement specifically, he said that “Jewish students still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable on some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation.”
B’nai Brith Canada has launched an online petition calling on the CFS to rescind the motion. As of Nov. 23, it had just over 3,000 signatures.
Representing B’nai Brith on Campus, Hasbara Fellowships Canada and the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), the petition challenges CFS’ motion, saying that “this shameful decision, which in no way reflects the views of the broad majority of Canadian students, coupled with the abuse of funds to support the anti-Semitic discrimination of Jewish students, must be condemned.”
The petition also notes that the resolution violates the student organization’s own policy on discrimination “based on place of origin, ethnicity or citizenship.”
However, the CFS motion was warmly received by Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), which had voted to endorse BDS in 2009.
Refuting the prime minister’s criticism of BDS activities on campus, Rudi Barwin, a spokesperson for the IJV chapter at Carleton University, said in a statement that, “The idea that BDS creates an unsafe environment for Jewish students is simply unfounded. In making this claim, Trudeau unfairly places the blame for anti-Semitism on Palestinians and those standing in solidarity with their cause.
“As a Jewish student and member of IJV, I congratulate the CFS for rejecting the Canadian government’s scapegoating of Palestine solidarity activists and for taking action toward a just peace in Israel-Palestine.”