A motion commemorating Holocaust Education Week, which was met with a walkout when it was first introduced three weeks earlier at a meeting of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) and failed to pass, was approved unanimously Dec. 19.
At the RSU’s semi-annual general meeting, Nov. 29, the gathering lost quorum when a number of students walked out and the motion was tabled.
“People unfortunately politicized something that doesn’t need to be politicized, and that’s what happened,” student Samantha Cooper, who introduced the motion, said in an interview Dec. 20. “If people walk out, their acts speak louder than words.”
Members of the Students for Justice in Palestine Ryerson and the Muslim Students Association denied they staged a walkout.
The motion was tabled to a meeting of the RSU board of directors, where it passed without incident, Cooper said.
Cooper said she was motivated to introduce the motion after observing numerous social justice events at Ryerson, but none that reflected her Jewish identity, she said. “This was a perfect time for students to have their voices heard,” she said.
At the executive meeting, where about 25 student representatives attended, it was easier to discuss the motion than at the AGM, which attracted around 200 students at the beginning of the meeting, Cooper said. “With over 100 people, things are misinterpreted. With a large group of people, things get out of control,” she said.
Student Aedan O’Connor, a Hasbara Fellow, said the walkout garnered negative publicity for the downtown university. “They were more concerned about their public image and that’s why it passed this time around.”
“Walking out on a Holocaust motion was blatant anti-Semitism,” she said.
A student amendment to the motion calling for Holocaust Education Week to be expanded to include other genocides, was the trigger for some of the heated speech at the earlier meeting, said RSU president Obaid Ullah.
He said he was glad the student retracted the motion at the executive meeting.
“This is not the place for it. It’s taking away from the importance of the [Holocaust Education] motion,” he said in an interview. “Throwing in a genocide week is not fair to the students who brought this forward and wanted to do something special for their cause.”
The student retracted the amendment after meeting with members of the Jewish community, said Ilan Orzy, associate director of advocacy for Hillel Ontario.
In the three weeks between the two meetings, Jewish organizations – including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Hillel Ontario, StandWithUs Canada and Students Supporting Israel at Ryerson – met with members of the Ryerson Student Union to explain the importance of the week.
In a statement, he said, “I am pleased that the RSU passed this very important motion supporting Holocaust Education Week. At Ryerson, we are committed to promoting positive dialogue and education on vital issues such as these. It is essential that we continue to learn from each other as we strive with mutual respect to ensure Ryerson fosters an inclusive, welcoming environment for all.”
A Holocaust education event will be held this year on Jan. 27, the United Nations designated day for international remembrance. After that, Holocaust education events will be held in November, with the rest of the Jewish community, Orzy said.