Regina student union backs BDS motion

Emile Sheffel

A resolution by a pro-Palestinian student group that requires the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel passed at URSU’s annual general meeting earlier this month.

The Regina Solidarity Group, a chapter of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), released a statement following the Feb. 8 gathering that boasted about the victory being “a huge first step towards the full divestment of the University of Regina from companies complicit with the human rights violations currently taking place in Palestine.”

Part of the motion demanded that URSU “commit to identifying and divesting from companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression.”

The statement said SAIA members plan to work with URSU to “begin investigating URSU’s portfolio for companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, as well as collectively launching an education campaign on campus about the issue.”

URSU president Kent Peterson told The CJN that about 150 students came to the AGM, which is open to the university’s 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and voted on various motions. He said that when the BDS motion was brought forward, students were given the opportunity to debate it.

“There were actually no con speakers to the motion. There were a few pro speakers, and then it was voted upon,” he said. “I believe it was passed unanimously and if it wasn’t unanimous, there might have been one vote against it.”

Emile Scheffel, vice-president external of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students’ (CFJS), said that the BDS campaign is anti-dialogue, anti-peace, and singles out Israel for condemnation.

“These are some of the reasons the BDS campaign, despite all its sound and fury, has achieved nothing,” Scheffel said in a statement, one of many released by Jewish groups in the days following URSU’s adoption of the motion.

“Sadly, this resolution singles out and punishes Israelis, holding the lone democracy in the Middle East entirely responsible for the conflict. The condemnation of Israel, and Israel alone, is particularly bizarre, given the upheaval and loss of life occurring at the hands of repressive regimes across the region,” Scheffel said.

“We hope URSU members will withdraw their support from this failed, discredited effort that only promotes division and resentment.”

David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, echoed Scheffel’s call to repeal the motion.

“The campaign to boycott Israel rejects constructive dialogue and solutions that promote peace and reconciliation,” Koschitsky said.

Trent University professor Asaf Zohar, national chair of Canadian Academics for Peace in the Middle East, said that “URSU’s decision to boycott Israel, including Israeli universities and academics… [is] antithetical to the tenets of free expression and free association that are fundamental to academia… [and] is blatantly discriminatory.”

Zohar added that the BDS campaign, which was launched in 2005, goes against Canadian values.

“During previous boycott attempts, presidents of nearly every major academic institution in Canada expressed their clear opposition to academic boycotts of Israel, and it is telling that not a single major university in North America has implemented a program of boycott against Israel,” Zohar said.

He said URSU should be working with the school’s leadership to better represent students’ interests, “rather than supporting extreme and discriminatory political campaigns.”

But Peterson said the motion does represent student sentiment at his school, stressing that it was presented by a student group and not by the URSU executive or board of directors.

“I, as the president of the students’ union, don’t get to decide what is important. The students get to decide. So if students want to take on a social issue… that’s their decision,” he said. “I take my marching orders from students, not the other way around.”

Now that the motion has been passed, Peterson said the next step is to look into URSU’s investments.

“I think the rational action from the students’ union perspective is that we sit down with our board of directors, investment professionals… and our general manager and look into our mutual funds and what we’re investing in.”

But Peterson admitted that he’s not sure how to measure whether a company “profits from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression,” as the motion states.

“We just have to take a very rational approach… look at our investments… and if something pops up, we’ll flag it and the board of directors will decide what to do from there,” Peterson said.

University of Regina spokesperson Jay Branch said the school had no comment on the motion, since it’s a URSU matter.

Efforts to reach SAIA representatives for comment were unsuccessful.