Letter: SFUO’S Support of BDS is Discriminatory and Harmful

December 4, 2017

CAMERA Fellow Samantha Goodman.

Earlier this month, Jewish and pro-Israel students in Ottawa were shocked to learn of a motion by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) to endorse the campaign to “boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS).”

While BDS portrays itself as a non-violent form of protest, its founders reveal its main goal: to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. This is documented by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti on numerous occasions, including an interview with The Electronic Intifada, where he said his advocating “the return for (Palestinian) refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.”

By bringing the pro-BDS motion forward, the SFUO sent a highly charged and negative message to Jewish and pro-Israel students.

The BDS campaign does not acknowledge that Israeli Arabs are the most free in the Middle East in Israel with all the rights of an Israeli citizen, including the right to vote, attend university, receive treatment at hospitals and serve in parliament. Barghouti himself is a Palestinian currently working on his PhD at Tel Aviv University in Israel, the same school from which he earned his Master’s.

A political movement targeting any minority group would be deemed racist and immediately denounced, therefore, it’s no different when Jews are the victims. When you solely blame the Jewish state for a complex issue and an entire group’s suffering, you are not just wrong, but also blatantly racist.

Following the news of the motion, Jewish and non-Jewish students from both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University worked together to fight it. Despite an obscure location, inconvenient timing and an hour delay, over 50 students attended the meeting. After emotional speeches and discussions on both sides, the SFUO amended the motion to exclude BDS, and it was changed to a pro-peace approach towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This was a huge win, but still left Jewish and pro-Israel students reeling as it came after the SFUO’s attempt to revoke the club status of the Israeli Awareness Committee (IAC) and Hillel Ottawa. Hillel is the Jewish student club, and it works to create a vibrant Jewish life on campus, while IAC encourages peaceful discussion about Israel.

Despite the clubs’ statuses being reinstated, the SFUO took a stance on this contentious issue and showed disregard for the pro-Israel and Jewish students whose interests they are supposed to represent. The student administration is not living up to its goal of providing an equitable space on campus, and this is demoralizing for pro-Israel and Jewish students, as they are forced to contemplate what other acts of anti-Semitism will slip through the cracks next?   

It is troubling that the motion to endorse the BDS campaign was ever on the table. It is a racist movement that seeks to demonize one country—the only liberal democracy in the Middle East—while turning a blind eye to Arab nations who deny their citizens fundamental rights that we take for granted in Canada like voting, criticizing the government, gender equality and more.

Why does it not choose to boycott Lebanon, for instance, where, according to Human Rights Brief, Palestinian refugees are forced into overcrowded camps lacking basic plumbing? Despite living in Lebanon for generations, Palestinians there are deprived of fundamental freedoms, unable to work, and treated like second-class citizens. 

The BDS campaign claims to stand for freedom, justice and equality, yet it does not treat all countries equally, promotes ignorance, and demonizes the Jewish state.

The ability to criticize Israeli policy is a democratic right, similar to finding fault with Canadian policies, but boycotting an entire country unjustly advances de-legitimization.

By attempting to bring BDS to campus, the SFUO singled out Jewish and pro-Israel students and fanned the flames of anti-Semitism by promoting a cause that drives Palestinians and Israelis further apart.

Contributed by CAMERA Fellow Samantha Goodman.

This article was originally published in Carleton campus paper The Charlatan.

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