UTGSU to discuss anti-Semitism at Annual General Meeting follow-up

Union at risk of financial default if quorum not reached
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) will be re-adjourning its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on January 27 after failing to meet quorum on December 5. If the UTGSU does not reach quorum it may be at risk of not passing its audited financial statements from the previous year and thus defaulting to the university.

The union plans to continue its discussion on anti-Semitism, hear reports from various committees, and address motions from members.

Long debates on anti-Semitism at last AGM

Despite not achieving quorum at its AGM on December 5, the UTGSU went ahead with item five on its agenda: a discussion on anti-Semitism at U of T.

This discussion took place after a UTGSU commissioner expressed reluctance to support Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward Campaign on the grounds that Hillel is a pro-Israel organization. The campaign was created to lobby for kosher food options on campus.

The seriousness of the issues up for discussion was not forgotten, with three campus police officers standing by while members filed in to register. 

Senior Director of Hillel UofT, Rob Nagus, read out a prepared statement to the membership which alleged that anti-Semitism at the UTGSU extends beyond its controversy over the Kosher Forward Campaign. Nagus claimed that the response of the former external commissioner, who had refused to address the Kosher Forward Campaign in an executive motion, “reflects a deep-seated culture of systemic anti-Semitism.”

Nagus also noted that “the UTGSU’s inability to separate Jewish students from the actions of the Israeli government and [the] lack of understanding about Zionism’s multifaceted role in Jewish communal history… is a grave concern to Hillel.”

Alex, a member of the group Independent Jewish Voices, responded to Nagus, asserting that the “conflation of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Judaism, and Zionism” is a wrongful one.

“If the UTGSU is interested in addressing anti-Semitism in any meaningful way, I would encourage them to do so outside of purely speaking with Hillel,” Alex said, noting that Hillel International’s mandate bars partnership with or hosting groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Also in the December discussion, Chaim Grafstein, the Kosher Forward Campaign lead who submitted the motion to the UTGSU, cited the implementation of Kosher Forward as a “concrete [step]” toward addressing anti-Semitism on campus.

Grafstein pointed out that if one searches the UTSG food map, Hillel is currently the only spot that offers kosher food. “So this is an opportunity to provide kosher food also to students who choose to actively dissociate with Hillel.”

Grafstein also thanked Hillel for the opportunity to work on the Kosher Forward campaign “despite some of [his] political views.”

The UTGSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment on how they would structure the discussion on anti-Semitism at the re-adjournment of their AGM.

On January 23, Hillel UofT successfully lobbied the university to provide kosher options on campus.

Motions by members

Among the motions for the upcoming AGM is a proposal to revisit a motion from a September meeting that annulled the memorandum agreement between the UTGSU and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA).

The September motion itself was moved after an investigation found 20 constitutional violations in the OISE GSA’s April elections, and ultimately resulted in the OISE GSA’s disaffiliation as a course union, a loss in funding, and a loss of seats on the Board of Directors and General Council.

Also on the table is a motion that asks the membership to express opposition to “any program of sanctions, divestment or boycotts targeting any country, nationality, ethnic group or identity in particular” and instead boycott, divest, and sanction based on “objective criteria.”

This motion appears to be explicitly targeting the UTGSU’s BDS Committee, who will also be presenting its report at the AGM. The BDS movement urges corporations, universities, and local governments to boycott Israel in protest of its occupation of Palestinian territory and treatment of Palestinians.

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