Concordia University Student Union Debates Motion Criticizing Adoption of BDS Campaign
A motion put forward in an apparent attempt to criticize the student union of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada over its adoption of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign was considered and voted down last week.
The motion was raised at a January 8 meeting of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), and related to an item in the CSU Positions Book — a document that reflects the positions that generally “establish the Union’s political discourse and long-term goals.”
Under a section on international affairs, the book includes two items related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of which endorses “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s occupation of Palestine until Israel complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights.” The item was approved by a tight margin during a student referendum in 2014, but rejected by Concordia’s then president for violating “the value of academic freedom.” No other foreign country is similarly addressed in the student handbook, or else named as the target of boycott.
The motion debated last week called on CSU and its councilors to cease using products and services from companies that have operations in Israel, and to encourage residents of the Gaza Strip to stop using Israeli currency.
The councilor who presented the motion suggested that its purpose was to underscore the CSU’s practical inability to fully implement BDS, and seemed critical of the union’s endorsement of the campaign. The motion, he said, is “completely nonsensical, but highlights how impractical a position can be.”
“Under our current position, we would all have to dispose of our phones, computers, and wearables” due to their links to Israeli-developed technology, he argued. “Whether you have one stance towards BDS or another, all of you should be able to discern that this position does not make sense to implement because we would have been in violation and will continue to violate this position until we take the ultimate decision to get rid of it once and for all.”
“Let’s not make this council a council of hypocritical enforcement, but a council of progressive and [logical] position taking,” he added. “But if we do decide to pas this motion, we need to implement it to the strictest of our abilities to ensure that we do not violate this position any further.”
To do so, he argued, would force the CSU host its meetings off-campus at a location “where Caterpillar construction equipment [was] not used,” along with other extreme steps. “I make this motion in the hopes of it never passing,” he added, before being cut off for an apparent rules violation.
A second councilor who helped bring forward the motion said it sought “to show that there is no actual point of having this in the Positions Book if no one is endorsing it, firstly.”
“Secondly the student union is not meant to be involved in international affair,” he continued. “Our point is this has nothing to do with the students, and in fact, by having it there, it makes everything it makes us all divisive. We want policies that bring us all together instead of pulling us apart.”
The motion sparked a brief debate, with one councilor pointing out that the Positions Book simply seeks to establish a political culture, rather than to enforce the execution of a specific task in a time limited fashion.
Another councilor argued that any effort to remove the BDS item from the Positions Book would have to pass through a referendum, in the same way the item was first adopted. A third councilor argued that the Positions Book simply expressed support for the BDS movement, but not “that we have to apply it in our everyday activities.”
“People are for free education, but no one is not paying their tuition because they are for free education, it’s just we will support anything that is attached to that idea,” she explained.
The motion was ultimately overwhelmingly voted down, including by its own proposer.
As evident during other campus BDS efforts, the period leading up to the 2014 referendum at Concordia was marked with divisiveness and raised alarm among many Jewish students, with Hillel expressing strong opposition to the measure.
One student who opposed the referendum wrote at the time that bathroom stalls on campus had been vandalized with antisemitic comments, including “Jews are f***ed up people” and “Jews are not people,” and that anti-BDS advocates were “repeatedly told that they were advocating for ‘Satan,’ that they were supporting ‘apartheid,’ and ‘mass murderers.'”
Leaders of the BDS campaign often describe the entirety of Israel as occupied Palestinian territory, and call for the Jewish state to face international isolation and sanctions until it accedes to key Palestinian demands.
Critics, including major Jewish groups in North America, Europe, and South America, have denounced the campaign for advancing antisemitic tropes, denying Jewish history and rejecting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.