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May 23, 2017 12:56 pm

Israel Advocates Relieved After Labor Union at Canadian University Fails to Pass Pro-BDS Referendum

avatar by Rachel Frommer

Simon Fraser University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Israel advocates expressed relief on Tuesday following the failure of an academic professional labor union to pass a pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) referendum into its bylaws last week.

Aidan Fishman, the campus advocacy coordinator for B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights group, said that there could have been serious ramifications if BDS had been approved by the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) of Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia (BC).

“Since the TSSU is a bona fide labor union, rather than a mere student association, any adoption of BDS would have been unlawful, likely triggering a legal response,” Fishman explained. “Section 7 of the BC Human Rights Code makes it illegal for a labor union to publish any intent to discriminate based on ancestry or place of origin, of which BDS is a classic example.”

According to Section 7, on “Discriminatory publication”:

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(1) A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that
(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or
(b) is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt
because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age of that person or that group or class of persons.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a private communication, a communication intended to be private or a communication related to an activity otherwise permitted by this Code.

The referendum, voted on by electronic ballot from May 15-19, would have instituted a TSSU-wide boycott of Israeli goods produced by companies supposedly “involved in the violation of Palestinian Human Rights, as well as complicit sporting, cultural and academic institutions”; divestment from “any Israeli or non-Israeli company, bank, fund, university or any institution participating in the oppression of Palestinians”; urged the Canadian government “to enact Sanctions against Israel and fulfill its legal obligation to hold Israel accountable to its violations of international law”; and called on SFU, its student groups and the labour movement “to take equivalent actions to support [BDS].”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Hillel BC and StandWithUs Canada (SWU) worked in concert to oppose the BDS referendum after it was proposed by at TSSU’s general membership meeting in January 2017.

In addition, nearly 100 SFU faculty and staff members signed a letter urging the TSSU to “vote no” — which members ultimately did, 227 to 186.

Nico Slobinsky, director of CIJA’s office in the Pacific Region, said in a statement on Monday that anti-Israel initiatives contradicted “the principles of inclusion and tolerance and often violate human rights codes…[and] have no place on a campus that purports to celebrate diversity and meaningful debate.”

SWU Canada’s executive director Meryle Kates, said in a press release that she was “proud that SFU graduate students and faculty members came together to ensure that their university stands on the right side of history.”

Hillel BC representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

“This is just the latest in a string of defeats for BDS in BC, including a building [trade] school reversing its policy of not accepting Israeli students in January, the failure of a BDS referendum at UBC [University of British Columbia] in April, and now this referendum result,” B’nai Brith’s Fishman noted.

In the past, there have been charges filed in Canada against anti-Israel activists alleged to have committed human rights violations.

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