Thursday, March 8, 2012

Boycott, divestment, and sanctions at Regina's university

By Natasha Tersigni
The Carillon
March 8, 2012

What started as a motion passed by students at the University of Regina Students’ Union’s  annual general meeting last month has become a contentious issue both on campus and now, thanks to one of Saskatchewan’s Members of Parliament, off.
During this year’s AGM, U of R student John Keitel took the floor and asked for a motion to be forwarded by the student’s union that would support the rights of Palestinian people and initiate a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign against the state of Israel. The motion was then passed with a near-unanimous majority.
According to the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group, the BDS is based upon a July 2005 call from over 170 Palestinian organizations in support of a global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
“The three main demands of [BDS] are ending colonization and occupation of all Arab-Palestine lands, to grant a full equality to citizens of the state of Israel, and the last demand is to respect the right of return to Palestine refugees which is a legitimate right according to the UN Resolution 194” said Yafa Jarrar, organizer of the Students Against Israeli Apartheid chapter at the University of Ottawa, who spoke on campus on Monday, Mar. 5.
She added that the BDS campaign is modeled after sanctions placed against the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
“In the 1950’s the African people issued their own Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and called upon the world to boycott the south African Apartheid until there is no more racial discrimination or segregation against black people in south Africa,” said Jarrar.
Days after the URSU AGM motion passed, the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students (CFJS) condemned the students’ union for adopting a BDS campaign.
“University students, like the majority of Canadians, believe strongly in the cause of peace. It is deeply disappointing that the URSU has chosen to endorse the divisive tactics and hateful rhetoric of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” said Emile Scheffel, Vice President External of the CFJS in the release.
Scheffel went on to say, “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.”
Then, almost a month after the motion was passed, Saskatchewan Conservative Member of Parliament for Prince Albert, Randy Hoback, took to the floor in the House of Commons and called for U of R President Vianne Timmons to condemn the motion being passed. Hoback called the resolution “one-sided” and “irresponsible”.
Although this motion has gotten backlash both on campus and off, URSU president Kent Peterson says that the students’ union will fulfill the mandate made by students at the organisation’s AGM.
“We are very disappointed with the MP Randy Hoback; we are disappointed in a number of ways,” Peterson said. “First of all, it’s saddening when a MP – from Saskatchewan, nonetheless – wants to censor the students’ union at the University of Regina. Students voted democratically at an annual general meeting on a number of motions. The BDS motion was one of them.
“We take our mandate from students so we cannot retract a motion, and we will not apologize for what students want, and we respect the very basic democratic principles that that decision was made on.”
At the time the Hoback’s comments were made, President Timmons was in Montreal, so Peterson spoke instead with university provost Dave Button to see how the administration would deal with the call from Hoback to decry the motion.
“I talked with Mr. Button and he made it very, very clear that the university has no intention of condemning a democratically voted-upon motion of the students’ union, because students want that and because the students’ union is a separate legal entity of the University of Regina and they have no say whatsoever over what we do,” Peterson said.
Peterson also added that he will be writing an open letter to Timmons to let her know what  URSU’s stance is on the issue and why that is, and also to encourage her to ignore Hoback’s comments.
Ironically, Hoback’s comments were made four days before the start of the University of Regina’s eighth annual Israeli Apartheid Week, which began on March 5.
Israeli Apartheid Week, which is taking place in 70 other cities around the world, is to raise awareness about the system of apartheid in Israel and building the growing international movement of the BDS campaign. The events are being put on by the Regina Solidarity Group, with support from the U of R’s Regina Public Interest and Research Group.

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