The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) held its monthly Board of Administrators (BoA) meeting on Sunday, November 4. Among other divisive topics, the BoA – consisting of SFUO executives and other faculty student representatives – was to hold a vote on the adoption of a discriminatory anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) motion.
The SFUO has a long history of picking sides in political conversations while allegedly representing the entire student body. Its record shows a history of threatening student clubs they don’t agree with.
A few weeks prior to the BDS vote, the SFUO tried to remove club status from the Israel Awareness Committee, as well as from Hillel, citing the clubs’ pro-Israel stances as a reason to discredit them. However, that attempt was quickly thwarted.
Representing all students while adopting divisive and discriminatory political stances sounds a little contradictory, right? And the BoA meeting’s agenda was nothing less than hypocritical of SFUO’s statement of principles promoting debate, inclusion, and free speech.
Many students weren’t even shocked about the BDS vote when they found out about it two days prior to the meeting. To be frank, many students saw it coming. However, this reality definitely made some people uncomfortable, others frustrated, and most at a loss for words. But this loss for words translated into a call for action.
With help from Hillel Ottawa, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, and Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, student leaders were guided in drafting an action plan to counter this hateful motion. Students mobilized in droves, contacted their faculty’s representatives, and invited their friends to attend the vote. On the day of the vote, more than 50 students showed up to rally against the BDS motion.
The initial BDS motion simply read, “The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa will support [the BDS] movement as well as take a Pro-Palestine stance.”
But before the vote took place, Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, an SFUO vice-president, proposed an amendment that “the SFUO will divest from industries and companies who actively support war and occupation including the apartheid regime of the State of Israel against the Palestinian population.”
If you are trying to understand the difference between the former and the latter, there is none. The SFUO executive actually thought that people’s opinions on the motion would change if instead of specifying BDS, it actually explained the concept.
Jewish or not, political convictions aside, student after student expressed disappointment with the SFUO’s tactics of exclusion. Many stated that BDS was a form of anti-Semitism. Some Jewish students said they felt unwelcome on campus. Others didn’t even mention their stance on BDS but simply mentioned that the SFUO has no business choosing sides on such a complex conflict.
After many emotional testimonies, the SFUO got the message. The motion was changed to say “the SFUO will do all in its power to promote peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” This motion passed.
The many smiles and sighs of relief from the crowd standing at the back of the overflowing room said it all as we all want to coexist and we certainly all want peace.
In putting forward the BDS motion, the SFUO seemed to have forgotten that peace will only come with dialogue. Silencing Jews and Israelis is counter-productive. When they try to silence us, we will only get louder.
Hillel Ottawa member Daniel Prudkov is a first-year civil law student at the University of Ottawa.