A motion to strike an ad-hoc committee at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) to discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel was voted down at the UTSU board of directors’ meeting on July 28. Despite the fact that the motion to form the committee did not pass, the planned introduction of a motion to support the BDS movement at the UTSU’s special general meeting, which is to be held in November, will not be affected.
The motion was a continuation of the discussion that began at a July 12 meeting, but was not completed due to time constraints.
Vice-president equity Sania Khan explained why she moved for the motion at the July 12 meeting, saying, “Up until [the special general meeting in November], we can make sure that students are as informed as possible and make an informed decision come time for the meeting. That’s why I want to strike this BDS ad-hoc committee.”
The proposed committee would have been chaired by the vice-president equity and membership would have been open to the entire U of T community.
Adir Krafman, a U of T alum and coordinator for advocacy with Hillel of Greater Toronto, a Jewish student life organization, raised concerns over the proposed committee and what he perceives as a lack of neutrality during both meetings.
“This committee would be anything but neutral. Its role would be to motivate UTSU students to vote in favour of the discriminatory BDS motion in the fall at a general meeting,” Krafman told The Varsity.
Nadi Saadeh, a graduate student who spoke in favour of the motion, argued against the idea that BDS is discriminatory, saying, “Any member who does not comply with the anti-discrimination policies of BDS, whether here or on other campuses, does not represent the BDS campaign.”
Woodsworth college director Nathan Gibson, who identifies as a Jewish student, and opposed the motion, said that the motion stifles the intellectual discussion of the conflict, which he said is important to have. “I think that discussing it in other ways and coming up with other ways to deal with this issue that aren’t so divisive, that aren’t so pointed at one side: I think that would be a better way to deal with this,” he explained.
Aidan Swirsky, a second-year student who also spoke against the committee, argued that the open-membership of the proposed committee was not compatible under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA).
“According to section 138, CNCA, under which the UTSU is now operating, and the UTSU by-laws section xi.6, committees formed by the UTSU board of directors are open only to members of the UTSU board of directors and no one else,” he said, adding, “Ad-hoc committees — which are specifically mentioned in section xi.8 of the by-law are no exception to this rule.”
UTSU speaker Brad Evoy ruled that a committee could have an open membership, so long as there are board members elected to the committee and the committee follows all the rules and procedures outlined in the by-laws. He explained: “What that [the by-laws] means, in my interpretation, is that board members will be elected from the board to serve on this committee. What it does not mean is that the board is automatically restricted to that membership. If the board approved an open membership for the committee, you are giving the provision, inherently, to allow that to occur. In my view, there is nothing in the by-law that would afford that restriction.”
A secret ballot vote for the committee was conducted, after arts & science at-large director Nicholas Grant put forward a motion to do so. In the end, there were seven votes in favour, 17 votes against, and two abstentions.
In a press release from Hillel, Krafman said, “We are grateful to the UTSU Board of Directors for striking down this motion, and are extremely proud of our student leaders who work tirelessly every day to ensure all student voices are heard.”
However, Saadeh was disappointed in the outcome. “There seems to be significant misinformation and lack of awareness about the demands of the BDS campaign. This is perhaps what explains the board’s unwillingness to support the motion that was put forward. BDS advocates are looking forward to reaching out to members of the university community in the near future.”
Correction (August 28, 2015, 02:46 am): A previous version of this article referred to Brad Evoy’s as a director, when he is in fact the UTSU speaker. The Varsity regrets the error.