Pro-Israel students walk out of Ryerson BDS vote

Pro-Israel students at Ryerson University walked out of a student union meeting after the undergraduate body passed a motion advocating boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

The campus group Students for Justice in Palestine tabled the item at the April 2 annual general meeting of the Ryerson Students Union (RSU). The raucous event at Ryerson’s student centre reportedly started 45 minutes late because of an extra-large turnout of more than 100 students.

SJP leaders claimed to have collected some 1,600 signatures on campus in support of the resolution, which calls on the RSU to cut ties with companies that do business in Israel.

Efforts by pro-Israel students to defer the motion to next year or to a student-wide referendum were defeated when discussion was cut short and the resolution was put to a vote. The item wasn’t initially on the AGM agenda, but ended up being considered first, because most of the students were apparently there to debate it, the Ryersonian student newspaper reported.

“It’s unjust and clearly one-sided. This was not the majority of student body, walking in here we were already a minority,” first-year radio and TV arts student Jessie Saunders-Drutz was quoted as saying by the rival Eyeopener newspaper.

“Our side was not heard, and any option to have a referendum or postpone it a year was defeated instantly because of the unequal numbers. This wasn’t a debate, there was a predetermined answer before we even we walked into the room, and that’s not a democracy.”

The meeting reportedly degenerated into shouting on both sides, with anti-BDS students ripping up their voting cards and storming out of the meeting after the resolution passed.

They led a protest outside the room, carrying signs saying “Hate Off Campus” and “RSU Represent Me Too,” the Eyeopener reported.

“Ryerson is supposed to be multicultural, and that’s the main reason I chose to come here over other universities. But today, on Ryerson campus, I’ve never felt so belittled and uncomfortable in a room,” first-year film student, Julia Bond told the paper. “The RSU is supposed to be unbiased and neutral. But they aren’t. They’re Palestinian.”

In a statement on its Facebook page, SJP said it was “extremely happy with the outcome” adding that it “was very telling of where the campus is in regards to this issue. An 80-per-cent majority never comes easy, and we believe we achieved this through campaigning over the last six months on campus. We reached out to our student body and got signatures from more than 1,600 students endorsing this motion.”

SJP president Mohommad Horreya, a fourth-year business student, was buoyed by the result, but decried the ruckus.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened and had to end in this way. [The anti-BDS students] should have kept calm and followed order so that the discussion could have continued,” he told the Eyeopener.

[email protected] strongly condemned the vote.

“BDS is at its very core a manifestation of discrimination as it specifically targets individuals based solely on their nationality,” said president Shannon Riley.

“This kind of divisive and toxic campaign does nothing but create a hostile and intolerant environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus. A university is supposed to strive for an atmosphere of respect and tolerance, where open dialogue is encouraged. This cannot exist when there are attempts to isolate a portion of the student body.”

She accused the RSU of “taking a stand on divisive Middle East politics instead of focusing on representing students’ voices” and commended pro-Israel students “for standing up against this blatant discrimination and for refusing to back down in the face of such a shameful resolution.”

Riley added that BDS “has one purpose, which is to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel. It is an impediment to peace and runs contrary to our core value of academic freedom and the integrity of this university. And that is why not one university administration in all of Canada, including Ryerson, has ever supported a single BDS motion.”

The Ryerson motion is the latest in a spate of similar ones across Canada.

Last month, a similar resolution was passed at the annual general meeting of the McMaster Student Union, but it turned out to be non-binding because the meeting didn’t have quorum.

At the University of Windsor, a controversial undergraduate referendum on BDS also passed recently, but the student union there deferred endorsing it after allegations of voting irregularities led the university administration to investigate.

In a statement, Berl Nadler, co-chair of the GTA council for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, called the RSU motion “a shameful display of anti-Israel bigotry.”

He also noted that “Israel boycott resolutions passed by student unions have had absolutely no impact on university policy. For good academic reasons, not a single Canadian university administration has ever supported BDS. In fact, Canadian universities are consistently developing and strengthening their relationships with their Israeli counterparts.”