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February 17, 2022 5:31 pm

Jewish Groups, Students Denounce University of Toronto Student Union’s Israel Boycott Vote

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The Daniel Wilson Quadrangle at the University of Toronto, St. George campus in Toronto, Ontario. Photo: Victoria Heath/Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish groups and students on Thursday denounced the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) for endorsing a motion linked to the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

The measure passed on Wednesday by a vote of 299 in favor and 243 against during a special general meeting held by UTSU, which governs more than 38,000 students.

It instructs the union to “wholly divest funds & further forbid investment to firms complicit in the occupation of Palestinian Territory.”

Evan Kanter, a student leader at Hillel UofT, said he was “disappointed” by the outcome of the vote.

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“Once again, the UTSU has decided to stoke the flames of antisemitism, rather than working to improve the student experience,” he said. “It saddens me that prospective students considering UofT will have to wonder, ‘Am I welcome here as a Jew? Will I have a student union who cares to represent me, though I’m Jewish?'”

“Dozens and dozens of Jewish students attended the meeting today to voice opposition against this antisemitic motion,” Kanter continued. “Today’s events highlight the inadequacy of the University’s choice not to adopt the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] IHRA definition of antisemitism. It’s hard to fight antisemitism if we have to keep convincing people how it’s defined.”

Hillel Ontario, which serves the UofT campus, had been working to defeat the motion for the past week, Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer Jay Solomon told The Algemeiner.

“We are deeply concerned that student unions at the University of Toronto continue to single out Israel and demonize Jewish self-determination,” he said. “The university has committed to taking tangible steps to curb antisemitism on campus — and the time for action is now.”

The University of Toronto Students’ Union did not immediately respond to an Algemeiner request for comment.

Naena Drazman, a StandWithUs campus coordinator, said she was proud of the “students who rallied together to speak against the motion.”

“The voices of Jewish students at UofT were heard loudly and proudly today,” she said. “Discriminatory motions of this nature are unacceptable. Boycotting the Jewish state does nothing to foster peace between Israeli and Palestinians and ultimately denies Jews’ right to self determination.”

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) on Thursday urged the university’s administration to focus its “full attention” on antisemitism, noting that Wednesday’s motion was the second of its kind passed by a UofT student government in less than three months.

In November, UTSU Scarborough voted to “refrain from engaging with organizations, services, or participating in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid,” and specifically targeted providers of Kosher food.

“Time and time again, we see student unions and groups contributing to growing division and hate toward Jewish faculty and students who support Israel,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, FSWC’s director of policy. “Last night’s vote is testament to the disappointing reality that antisemitism is alive and well at UofT.”

Daniel Koren of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, a group that sponsors student trips to Israel, also called on UofT President Meric Gertler to act in an open letter issued Wednesday.

The university “must step up now, adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism — which would clearly illustrate how these actions are antisemitic — and protect the rights of Jewish students,” he wrote. “There can be no more delay.”

In a statement to The Algemeiner, a UofT spokesperson pointed to President Gertler’s statement issued in November after the UTSU Scarborough vote, which called that measure “inconsistent with the University of Toronto’s core values of freedom of speech and inclusion.”

The spokesperson on Thursday also noted that UTSU is an autonomous organization operating independently from the university, and that the recent motion would have no impact on kosher food provision on campus. The administration has also asked the student society for clarification on the motion and its implications, the spokesperson said.

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