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Jewish Organizations on campus worried about impact on students

Photo courtesy of Eve Panagapko

The Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) unanimously voted to boycott Israel at their latest general meeting following ongoing conflicts in the region.

The proposal to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was put forward by the Ryerson Students’ Union.

Anna Goldfinch, an executive member of the CFS, said the motion was passed “to condemn the current actions of the state of Israel in Gaza including the bombing of two universities,” and to pressure the Harper government to “stop supplying arms to Israel and the Canada-Israel free trade agreement.”

Conflict in Gaza was revived this summer as 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Seventy Israelis were also killed. A cease-fire was established Aug. 27.

Each student union will decide to what extent they will implement the boycott.

Anne-Marie Roy, president of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), said they don’t currently have a student mandate on the BDS, but the SFUO supports the motion because they already have a mandate for solidarity work for Palestinians.

Roy referred to the Right to Education campaign, which U of O students voted to join in 2009. The campaign “addresses the specific challenges around access to education for Palestinian youth,” she said.

Members of the Jewish community on campus are troubled by the CFS’s decision.

Chaim Boyarsky, rabbi and co-director of the Rohr Chabad Student Network of Ottawa, said he was “not surprised, but extremely pained” by the boycott.

“America killed hundreds and thousands of people fighting in Iraq, and no one is boycotting America,” he said.

Boyarsky said the students he has spoken to have expressed “shock, disbelief, and pain, but a strong sense of determination.”

“It’s very disappointing to see any type of activity from groups that are supposed to be representing our students on campus adopting any type of element that makes it hostile and uncomfortable on campus,” said Scott Goldstein, executive director of the campus Jewish community Hillel Ottawa.

However, Roy said it’s “not a religious issue, and we’re willing to support Jewish students on campus in any way.”

The BDS movement began in 2005 when Palestinian civil society called for the boycott of Israeli products, divestment from Israeli corporations, and sanctions against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”

Goldfinch said it’s a tactic that’s been used historically “in a number of political campaigns—everything from ending apartheid in South Africa to opposing the tar sands.”

Goldstein said that “people don’t want to be on a campus environment that is not promoting peace and not promoting dialogue,” and that the BDS “does not promote peace.”

“This type of motion, to me, shows why and how disconnected (the CFS) is from the general student body on our university campuses,” he said.

Last March at the U of O, the Muslim Students Association asked students to boycott Sabra hummus because of its connections to Israel.

More recently, the University of Regina cut ties with Hebrew University in Israel last month, following protests from students and community members. However, U of R president Andrew Gaudes said the university ended the relationship only because the “course content offered by Hebrew University did not meet our needs.”

Gaudes told the U of R’s campus newspaper the Carillon that “as a university, we do not agree with a blanket exclusion of Israeli institutions from these types of conversations.”