Boy­cott, Di­vest, and Sanc­tions on cam­pus

Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment, Sanc­tions mem­bers ques­tion the va­lid­ity of de­ci­sion

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Xavi Richer Vis

Last Sun­day, Septem­ber 17, the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of Mcgill Univer­sity (SSMU) Board of Di­rec­tors (BOD) voted to rat­ify the Ju­di­cial Board’s ref­er­ence on the le­gal­ity of the Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment, Sanc­tions (BDS) mo­tion brought to the Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA) last win­ter. The ref­er­ence, is­sued in May 2016, ruled that BDS was dis­crim­i­na­tory in na­ture and vi­o­lated SSMU’S Con­sti­tu­tion and Eq­uity Pol­icy.

The ref­er­ence was the re­sult of ten­sions on cam­pus fol­low­ing the Win­ter 2016 GA vot­ing in fa­vor of rat­i­fy­ing a mo­tion in sup­port of BDS. The BDS move­ment ad­vo­cates for eco­nomic pres­sure against the state of Is­rael, in or­der to bring about a non­vi­o­lent end to the il­le­gal oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tine and the op­pres­sion of Is­rael’s Pales­tinian cit­i­zens. While the GA vote was over­turned, the BDS mo­tion failed the school-wide on­line rat­i­fi­ca­tion process.

A dan­ger­ous prece­dent

Ac­cord­ing to SSMU Pres­i­dent Muna To­ji­boeva, the Bod’s rat­i­fi­ca­tion vote was not fa­cil­i­tated in a con­fi­den­tial ses­sion. Eleven out of twelve Di­rec­tors voted in fa­vor of rat­i­fi­ca­tion, with only one ab­sten­tion. While the de­ci­sion was nearly unan­i­mous in pro­ce­dure, many on cam­pus re­main un­con­vinced of the ref­er­ence’s va­lid­ity.

The Jboard ref­er­ence con­cluded that “SSMU’S com­mit­ment against dis­crim­i­na­tion in favour of cre­at­ing ‘ safer spa­ces’ ren­ders mo­tions sim­i­lar to the BDS Mo­tion, which specif­i­cally com­pel SSMU to adopt a plat­form against a par­tic­u­lar na­tion, un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

How­ever, Syd­ney Lang, a mem­ber of Rad­law, a so­cial jus­tice-ori­ented group of law stu­dents at Mcgill, has spe­cific ob­jec­tions to sec­tion 33 of the ref­er­ence.

“Their end rea­son­ing,” Lang ex­plained to The Daily, “is that yes, SSMU can take po­si­tions against na­tions but un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stances, if it’s phrased in cer­tain ways, and only in ex­treme cases. [...] What I’m most con­cerned with is that they’re giv­ing the Ju­di­cial Board in the fu­ture the abil­ity to de­ter­mine what’s an ex­treme case. They’re tech­ni­cally say­ing that we could hy­po­thet­i­cally do this if it was a re­ally ex­treme case and we would do it in a cer­tain way. That’s not based in the Con­sti­tu­tion. The Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t set that out. They’re cre­at­ing this idea that they’re the ones who get to gauge the ex­trem­ity of an is­sue be­fore SSMU can take a stance on it.”

“They’re mak­ing de­ci­sions about what’s an ex­treme in­ter­na­tional con­flict,” con­tin­ued Lang, “or what’s ex­treme for the lives of Pales­tini­ans or other peo­ple around the world who are fac­ing oc­cu­pa­tion, but how are they the ones to de­ter­mine what’s ex­treme?”

Con­flat­ing the state and its cit­i­zens

“By adopt­ing of­fi­cial po­si­tions against cer­tain na­tions,” reads part of sec­tion 33, “as the BDS Mo­tion aims to do with Is­rael, SSMU would be plac­ing Mem­bers from those na­tions at a struc­tural dis­ad­van­tage within Mcgill’s com­mu­nity [...] In essence, SSMU sig­nals to those Mem­bers from the very be­gin­ning that it is hos­tile to­wards their coun­try thus, in­di­rectly, them. Mo­tions which com­pel SSMU to do so threaten the frag­ile bonds which hold Mcgill’s in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to­gether.”

“They’re con­flat­ing the po­lit­i­cal state of Is­rael with in­di­vid­ual Is­raelis cit­i­zens,” said Lang in re­sponse. “They’re mak­ing this con­nec­tion be­tween the two that isn’t fac­tu­ally grounded. Look at any other [case] in his­tory; Mcgill took a stand against South African apartheid, but weren’t against South Africans. Sim­i­lar ex­am­ples are when stu­dents in HK protested against the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment or In­dige­nous peo­ples chal­lenge the state of Canada. You are cri­tiquing a sys­tem of gov­er­nance, op­pres­sion, or oc­cu­pa­tion, not in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens”

BDS has yet to put out a state­ment fol­low­ing the Board’s rat­i­fi­ca­tion vote, but in an in­ter­view with The Daily, BDS mem­ber Maia Salameh gave some in­sight into how mem­bers of Mcgill’s BDS Ac­tion Net­work are feel­ing.

“We’re gonna fight it, but it is a huge blow ob­vi­ously and a dis­ap­point­ment,” said Salameh. “That doesn’t mean it’s over. [...] the whole prob­lem stems from the struc­tural na­ture of SSMU,” said Salameh. “To fight this, we need to [...] re­form [the struc­ture] be­cause right now there are un­elected mem­bers that are mak­ing these huge de­ci­sions with­out any ac­count­abil­ity or trans­parency.”

Cur­rently, the Jboard, a body of the BOD, is com­posed of seven SSMU mem­bers ap­pointed by the Nom­i­nat­ing Com­mit­tee. Jboard de­ci­sions are then rat­i­fied or re­jected by the BOD, with de­ci­sions never be­ing re­viewed by an elected SSMU body.

“We are form­ing a new cam­paign called De­moc­ra­tize SSMU,” ex­plained Salameh. “It’s go­ing to be a coali­tion not just of BDS mem­bers be­cause we don’t think this de­ci­sion just af­fects BDS. We want to mo­bi­lize stu­dent groups and stu­dent ac­tivists in gen­eral be­cause we want in­sti­tu­tional change. We’re go­ing to go through Eq­uity com­plaints be­cause [we] think there’s been a gross in­jus­tice here and we will be stag­ing protests just to make peo­ple aware of this de­ci­sion and why it af­fects them.”

Many ques­tions left unan­swered

The min­utes from the Septem­ber 17 BOD meet­ing have yet to be re­leased. As of pub­li­ca­tion, none of the Bod’s mem­bers-at­large have re­sponded to com­ment re­gard­ing the rat­i­fi­ca­tion vote.

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