The Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is distancing itself from a recent vote by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
CFS Ontario represents more than 300,000 university students through its member organizations, including the SGPS. The vote was cast to condemn Israeli military attacks in Gaza.
Kevin Wiener, president of SGPS, said that while the SGPS are members of the CFS they were unable to send a delegate to vote at the annual general meeting on Aug. 14-17.
Wiener, JD ’15, said that CFS meetings tend to happen mid-week, which makes it difficult for SGPS members to attend.
“It’s especially difficult during the summer since three of us [executives] are law students who are also doing legal work over the summer,” Wiener said.
“This made it impossible for us to be able to take that number of days off during the week to go.”
On Aug. 26, the SGPS released a statement saying that the executive didn’t support taking a stance on divisive foreign policy issues.
“CFS Ontario is entitled to make public statements and their position that they’ve articulated on the [Israel-Palestine] conflict is not a position that the SGPS is willing to attribute to our membership,” Wiener said.
“I don’t have the mandate to try and state that one position on the Israel/Palestine conflict represents the same view of our 4,000 members,” he added.
“It’s up to individual members to discuss and debate the issues and come to their own conclusions, and we encourage our individual members to be active on whatever part of the issue they believe speaks to their principles.”
The SGPS will not be divesting from any companies or organizations.
“Currently the SGPS doesn’t have its assets invested in any equities,” Wiener said.
“At this point we are not participating in any BDS initiatives.”
Anna Goldfinch, national executive representative of the CFS, said the motion was passed as an emergency resolution.
“Criteria for what qualifies as an emergency motion is laid out in our CFS bylaws,” Goldfinch said.
“The BDS motion met these criteria and went through a rigorous democratic process, where it was discussed at length at which point it was voted on and was passed unanimously.” Goldfinch also said the CFS passed the motion to condemn Israel’s Operation Protective Edge actions in Gaza, including the recent bombing of two universities.
“The resolution that was passed called on the Harper government to stop supplying arms to Israel, end the Canada-Israel free trade agreement, as well as endorse a number of solidarity tactics that have been called for by Palestinian civil society,” Goldfinch said.
Although the resolution passed unanimously, it is not binding to the SGPS or any other student organization.
“The motions adopted at these meetings represent collective decisions made by students across Ontario — but it’s up to member locals to decide what this campaign looks like on their campus,” Goldfinch said.
“They have the autonomy to do that.”
“It is unfortunate that the CFS made the decision to take such a one-sided view of the issue that places the blame all on one side, and alienates a good portion of the student body,” said Ben Babins, president of Israel on Campus.
Graduate student Karl Hardy said there’s a strong feeling of disagreement with the SGPS coming from its constituents.
Hardy, MA ’15, said the statement is intended to “distance the SGPS from the CFS motion.” “It implies that at least the executive of the SGPS oppose the vote, which says that because it is a divisive issue and a foreign policy issue the SGPS doesn’t want to touch it,” Hardy said.
“I think this is absolutely disturbing because as a university, especially as graduate-professional students, we should not be shying away from talking about issues that concern human rights abuses and social justice.”
Hardy added that the statement implies they wouldn’t have supported the motion, even if a delegate had been sent to the vote, “without actually coming out and saying it.”
Ozgun Topak, a PhD ’09 student, supports the BDS movement passed by the CFS.
“The SGPS statement implies that we all oppose the vote by CFS in support of the BDS and their criticizing of Israeli war crimes,” Topak said.
“The statement is a political stance which we are concerned with.”
Hardy and Topak said they’re interested in initiating a discussion among grad students on this issue.
“Occupation of the Palestinian territories and collective punishment of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel continues,” Topak said.
“We are members of the global academic community with financial and institutional relationships with the state of Israel and we cannot be neutral on this issue.”
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