University of Toronto’s student union in Scarborough walked back a ban on kosher food (but their BDS restrictions remain)

University of Toronto Scarborough Campus Student Centre

The University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has walked back a commitment to stop using kosher food providers if they support Israeli “apartheid.”

Meeting Dec. 1, the SCSU’s board of directors revoked the controversial section of a resolution that was presented at the union’s annual general meeting on Nov. 24.

In a bid to reaffirm its nine-year-old support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the union passed a motion stating, in part, that “efforts should be made to source kosher food from organizations that do not normalize Israeli apartheid.”

It went on: “However, recognizing the limited availability of this necessity, then exceptions can be made if no alternatives are available.”

Following an outcry from Jewish organizations and condemnation from the president of the university and the principal of the Scarborough campus, the SCSU’s board of directors, at its December meeting, voted to amend the BDS resolution by removing the restrictions on kosher food vendors.

However, the union’s board of directors left unchanged the rest of the BDS motion, which calls on the SCSU to refrain “from engaging with organizations, services, or participating in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid.”

That includes inviting speakers who represent the Israeli military, boycotting goods produced in Israeli settlements, keeping a BDS blacklist, and other restrictions.

Yardena Rosenblum, president of Jewish Student Life (JSL) at UofT’s Scarborough campus, said the amended resolution changes nothing.

She said there is still a ban on affiliation or even interaction with organizations that “normalize Israeli apartheid”—“and this still includes food providers who identify as Zionists, as do the vast majority of Canadian Jews.”

“The ‘exemption’ in the case that there were no non-Zionist kosher food providers available was itself evidence of SCSU’s overreach and bigotry.”

Ultimately, the union’s actions reveal an intention to cease association “with almost any Jewish organization or business in the GTA,” Rosenblum said in a statement to The CJN.

She said that if a student wants to bring in a speaker from a Jewish organization for a Jewish holiday, hosted by JSL, “they do not even have the option of petitioning SCSU for funding.”

Had the union listened to concerns, it “would be taking steps to return to Jewish students the same rights afforded to every other fee paying member.”

The student union also passed another resolution on reaffirming the rights of Jewish students. However, the original motion, written and tabled by Jewish student and SCSU member Maxwell Fine, was heavily edited by the union’s policy and bylaw committee before it was presented at the Nov. 24 annual general meeting.

Among the many cuts to the original version was a call to defend academic freedom by ensuring that students, staff and faculty may attend lectures, workshops and films about Israel and/or Palestine; participate in joint research with Israelis or Israeli institutions; enrol in classes offered in conjunction with Israeli universities; and travel or study abroad in Israel, or with organizations that support Israel or Zionism.

Fine charged that the changes were made behind closed doors, without his input of knowledge, and he called on the SCSU to restore the original version.

He told The CJN that the explanation he received for the cuts was that some his clauses “were either redundant or outside the scope of the union.”

As for the amended resolution on kosher food, “it tells me they don’t really understand what’s wrong with BDS. The issue is not kosher food. Kosher food is just an example,” Fine said.

In a Nov. 26 statement, UofT president Meric Gertler called the kosher food clause of the BDS resolution “unacceptable.” He said the two union motions “are specifically focused on Israel in a way that is troubling to many members of the community.”

The resolutions were also condemned by the principal of UofT’s Scarborough campus, Wisdom Tettey, and by Prof. Kelly Hannah-Moffat, UofT’s vice-president, for people strategy, equity and culture.

B’nai Brith Canada said the amended motion on kosher food is “a welcome first step but the bigger problem is still that the SCSU is singling out Israel.”

The union is also still singling out Jewish students, Bnai Brith spokesperson Marty York told The CJN. “They’re telling them they can’t book space if they are affiliated with any group that supports Israel.”

Notwithstanding this amendment, the SCSU “is still engaging in antisemitism and the university should still withhold its fees unless and until the SCSU revokes the entire resolution passed on Nov. 24 and issues a full apology to the Jewish community,” York added.

The SCSU represents about 14,000 students at UofT’s Scarborough campus.