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March 7, 2022 6:27 pm
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University of Toronto to Withhold Thousands in Graduate Student Union Fees Over Israel Boycott

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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.

The University of Toronto will withhold thousands in student fees from the Graduate Student Union (UTGSU), in an unprecedented response to the body’s embrace of efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

The decision to withhold $10,918 in student fees earmarked for the union — assessed as the annual amount spent by the union to promote the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign — was announced Friday in a letter by Provost Cheryl Regehr, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

“Today marks a pivotal step forward in the struggle against antisemitism at U of T, and at Canadian universities more broadly,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of the Jewish advocacy group.

Mostyn noted that while the university only withheld a portion of UTGSU funds, it was was the first time that a Canadian school has stripped funds from a student union for backing BDS or for antisemitism generally.

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In addition to using student fees to support BDS, UTGSU has hosted speakers who made antisemitic remarks during their presentations. Most recently, in November, the union attempted to establish a permanent BDS Committee, in a vote that was rejected with 34 dissenting votes, seventeen in favor, and eleven abstentions.

In 2020, graduate student Chaim Katz filed a complaint with the university arguing that UTGSU was discriminating against Israel based on nationality. Last February, U of T’s Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies ruled in Katz’s favor and recommended several ways UTGSU could reform its conduct. It proceeded to ignore the council’s ruling, however, prompting Provost Regehr’s decision on Friday.

On Monday, Katz said he is “relieved” that U of T is addressing Jewish students’ concerns about antisemitism.

“I am relieved that U of T has finally decided to take some action on behalf of Jewish students,” he said. “While this outcome took far longer than it should have, it will hopefully make life easier for future generations of Jewish students.”

The decision comes during what B’nai Brith termed a “wide-ranging antisemitism crisis” at the University of Toronto. Student unions in the university system have passed resolutions endorsing BDS twice in recent months, while university staff members last year made comments seen as demonizing supporters of Israel and promoting antisemitic tropes.

On Monday, Jay Solomon, Chief Communications & Public Affairs Officer of Ontario Hillel, which serves Jewish university students in the province, said he is “deeply appreciative of the university administration for this decision.”

“For too long, the university of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) has held the dubious record of being the only student union in the country to use mandatory student fees to fund a discriminatory committee promoting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israelis,” he told The Algemeiner. “The decision illustrates what we have long argued — that the UTGSU’s obsessive and discriminatory focus on Israel and Jewish students has overstepped the bounds of what is acceptable.”

Neither the University of Toronto nor the Graduate Student Union immediately responded to Algemeiner requests for comment.

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