GSU and UTM Back Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign


By: Sebastian Greenholtz

University of Toronto’s Graduate Students’ Union and University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union have both backed a campaign to pull out University of Toronto investment from companies shown to be involved in human rights abuses in Israel and occupied Palestine. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign passed both unions with overwhelming support from students.

BDS specifically targets companies that produce items used to enforce the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank, such as BAE Systems, which supplies tear gas to Israeli soldiers, and Hewlett Packard, which creates checkpoint technology that limits the movement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, supplies IT systems for the Israeli navy, and administers identification cards carried by Israeli citizens. According to GSU and UTMSU, the University has been shown to invest in these companies.

At both the GSU Annual General Meeting and the UTMSU Board of Directors’ vote, the motion to support BDS gained considerable support. Erin Oldynski, VP External for GSU, said in an interview with the newspaper, “Five or ten people did not support the motion; there were almost 200 people in the room.” Shefa Obaid, head of Students Against Israeli Apartheid UTM who brought forward the campaign on Mississauga campus, told the newspaper, “Once [the motion] got on the agenda it passed through the Ministry of Social Justice, and it went through a unanimous vote in favour.”

However, the GSU did receive some opposition in the form of a letter expressing concern about the content of the motion. The letter questioned the extent to which GSU supports the larger BDS campaign, which calls not only for divestment but a boycott of Israeli scholars, academic cooperation with Israel, and preventing Canadian students to travel to Israel. GSU drafted an open response letter, saying, “We would note that the motion does not instruct the Union to boycott or sanction Israel. It states that we shall broadly endorse the call which formed the BDS movement, but instructs the Union to do so by only carrying out one of these actions — divestment.”

Obaid echoed this sentiment, saying, “BDS believes in equal rights; it does not believe in punishing people for the acts of their government, that doesn’t sound very ethical.”

Other students have questioned the right of a student union to take a stance on political issues. Yasmine Youssef, VP Equity for UTMSU, told the newspaper, “I think it comes down to what students want. … As students we look for something that is related to us as individuals, that our tuition is going towards various organizations that we don’t know much about, so it’s more a human rights issue than it is a political issue.”

Oldynski added, “We have an obligation as students and as moral beings and as people who must be politically engaged and civically engaged to hold our institutions accountable.”

The next steps for both unions involves further research into U of T’s investments and gathering signatures to bring the issue to the Governing Council, who by their rules look into the concerns of any petition with over 300 signatures. Just as University of Toronto boycotted South African companies during Apartheid, this motion hopes to be one of a number of steps to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to bring peace to the region once and for all.

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