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October 26, 2017 4:50 pm

University of Winnipeg Students Vote Against Israel Boycotts, Marking Eighth Consecutive Defeat for BDS in Canada

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The University of Winnipeg. Photo: AJ Batac.

Students at the University of Winnipeg (UW) voted down a resolution supporting boycotts of Israel on Wednesday, the latest in a string of defeats for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel on Canadian campuses.

The resolution — defeated by a two-third majority during a special general meeting held by the UW Students’ Association (UWSA) — called on the student body to “officially denounce Israeli apartheid, and explore ways to support the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a way of supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people against the Israeli state.”

In a statement posted to social media on Wednesday, Hillel Winnipeg praised UW student leaders “who showed up today to stand up to divisive and discriminatory behaviour on their campus.”

One of these students, Sophie Hershfield, said that supporters of the motion tried to pass it during the UWSA’s annual general meeting in March, but lost quorum before the motion was voted on.

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“The biggest problem I have with the UWSA trying to pass this motion is that it would put Jewish students at risk, all in the name of advancing a political agenda held by a small minority of students,” Hershfield noted in comments published by the Winnipeg Jewish Review in March.

“Antisemitism is already a problem at the University of Winnipeg,” she cautioned, pointing to two photos of antisemitic graffiti found on campus, and saying similar messages have “been popping up all over the place.”

“The BDS movement has unfortunately gone hand in hand with antisemitism on many campuses across Canada,” Hershfield observed. “For the UWSA to make a decision to advance a political agenda held only by a minority of the student body, and use student funds to support a movement that would actively put Jewish students at risk, would be undemocratic and destructive.”

After speaking to several non-Jewish students who said they didn’t know enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to take a position on BDS, Hershfield “suggested setting up an open dialogue about the conflict instead of passing this motion,” but was denied, as this would be giving “a legitimate voice to colonialism.”

“Clearly many of the supporters of this motion do not wish to further anyone’s understanding of the issue, and instead wish to make a one-sided judgement call on behalf of ten thousand students on a nuanced political issue that could endanger a portion of the student population,” she added.

The Jewish human rights group B’nai Brith Canada pointed out that “over the past two years, BDS votes have also failed at the University of Toronto (twice), the University of WaterlooMcGill University, the University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University.”

“That is now eight consecutive defeats for this discriminatory campaign, demonstrating yet again that students see BDS precisely for what it is: a hateful and unjust movement against indigenous Jewish self-determination on their ancestral homeland,” said Ran Ukashi, Manitoba regional director for B’nai Brith. “Students from coast to coast have spoken up loud and clear: enough is enough for this hateful campaign.”

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