uOttawa student union rejects BDS, despite plurality of support

Tabaret Hall on the University of Ottawa campus.

Pro-Israel students in Ottawa came out in numbers to prevent the passing of a boycott, divestment and sanctions motion against Israel at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) annual general meeting.

This was the second time this academic year that a motion was brought before the SFUO to consider endorsing the BDS campaign and follows an attempt by members of the student federation to revoke the club status of Hillel Ottawa and the Israel Awareness Committee last November.

The most recent vote, held March 13, attracted about 500 students, with 241 students voting in favour of the BDS motion and 231 students voting against it. Although more students voted in favour, a two-thirds majority is required to change the SFUO’s constitution.

The motion was put forward by Students for Palestinian Human Rights, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) uOttawa-Carleton and the Revolutionary Student Movement.

This follows a string of similar defeats at Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, McGill University, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Winnipeg.


Robert Walker, the national director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, said that promoters of the BDS movement are on the wrong side of history.

“Students across Canada are increasingly opposing this hateful movement. For Canada’s capital city to say no to BDS is more than a symbolic defeat; it is a powerful message to all anti-Israel activists across Canada that they are losing,” Walker said.

A number of Jewish groups worked to defeat the motion, including Hasbara Fellowships Canada, the Rohr Chabad Student Network, the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, StandWithUs Canada, Hillel Ottawa, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

B’nai Brith Canada said in a statement that it acted through its legal counsel before the vote, to warn the SFUO that endorsing BDS could have legal consequences, as the student union’s policy on discrimination prohibits the SFUO from discriminating on the basis of nationality or religion.

“Jewish and Israeli students should not be facing repeated discrimination from their own student government. The SFUO leadership should take heed of the membership’s firm rejection of anti-Semitism,” said B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn.

Jewish and Israeli students should not be facing repeated discrimination from their own student government.
– Michael Mostyn

In a statement, IJV uOttawa-Carleton co-president Geneviève Nevin dismissed claims made by Hillel Ottawa and the Israel Awareness Committee that the motion was an attack on Jews.

“As a Jew, I will not let my Jewish identity be utilized to justify the human rights violations carried out by the Israeli state. These organizations do not speak for me, nor do they speak for many other Jews at the University of Ottawa,” Nevin said, adding that putting forth the motion was “only the beginning of our efforts.”

Hillel Ottawa director Dovi Chein said he was proud of the students who came to the meeting to take a stand.

“For the second time this school year, Hillel students and their allies have successfully pushed back against fringe elements on campus who would target Israelis with this discriminatory initiative,” Chein said.

“BDS is counter-productive to peace and absolutely at odds with academic freedom, which is why no university administration in North America has endorsed it.”

Jewish Federation of Ottawa CEO Andrea Freedman said the BDS campaign “denigrates the very identity of Jewish students.

Students across Canada are increasingly opposing this hateful movement.
– Robert Walker

“Every student has a right to feel welcome and safe on campus and we will continue engaging the university at the highest levels to express our concerns about the damaging effect of anti-Israel activism on campus.”

Petula Fernandes, an incoming Hasbara fellow from the University of Ottawa who attended the meeting in support of pro-Israel students, said she looks forward to learning more about the complexities of the conflict.

“My vision is to build bridges between both sides and I firmly believe this can only be achieved through anti-BDS initiatives, such as promoting peace and dialogue,” Fernandes said.

Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, co-director of Ottawa’s Rohr Chabad Student Network, posted a note on Facebook to thank the “hundreds of students who contributed to (the) landmark victory on campus.”

“Thank you to all of you who waited for hours to vote down BDS. The Jewish pride tonight was something I have not seen in my 10 years on campus,” Raabi Boyarsky wrote.