String of defeats bring future of movement into question
Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been a good week for the BDS movement.
BDS—which stands for “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions”—calls for organizations to boycott the State of Israel and Israeli products, citing the alleged abuses and exploitation of the Palestinian people. Concordia University was dragged into the battle of BDS in the fall of 2014, splitting the student population along ideological lines. After delays and postponements, ultimately the undergraduate student population narrowly passed the motion, the “Yes” camp winning by a mere 209 votes.
It hasn’t been smooth sailing since then. Concordia University president Alan Shepard immediately condemned the vote on behalf of the university, writing in a statement that “a boycott barring us from contact with other universities and scholars would be contrary to the value of academic freedom that is a pillar of Concordia and of universities all over the world.”
Then, last November, student organizations on campus held the first Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Week—five days of events marking a year since Concordia’s student body passed the BDS motion. The week was marred by controversy for leaving some feeling alienated or attacked.
Now, the movement has suffered yet another blow: the Students’ Society of McGill University defeated a motion to support BDS by refusing to ratify the motion. It failed with 57 per cent of the votes going “No.”
In a Facebook statement, the group Concordians United Against BDS praised McGill’s student body. “Proud of ‘Vote No McGill’ and the entire McGill community for taking action against injustice on their campus,” it read. “This is a win for all of us.”
On Feb. 18, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government voted to support a motion brought forward by the Conservative Party, condemning BDS movements across the country. The motion claims that BDS “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel” and denounces “any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” CBC News quoted one unnamed Conservative MP as claiming that BDS was “the new anti-Semitism.”
Terry Wilkings, General Coordinator for the Concordia Student Union (CSU), says the condemnations won’t affect the CSU’s involvement with BDS going forward.
“Our position as an organization rests on the urgent need to profoundly re-evaluate the mechanics of inequality both at home and abroad,” said Wilkings. “A Conservative motion supported by the Trudeau government will not deter the CSU from raising valid questions about the illegal settlement activity and human rights violations being implemented by Israel’s ruling party.”
Wilkings said that the CSU will continue to address the progressive issues of its electorate, including climate change, corporate welfare, and BDS.