The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) was readjourned on January 27 after failing to meet quorum on December 5. It addressed a number of motions pertaining to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign, including a motion by the committee to ban the Jewish Defense League (JDL) from campus and a motion by a member to oppose the BDS committee altogether.
The wider BDS movement lobbies corporations, universities, and local governments to sanction the Israeli government and boycott Israeli goods to protest the country’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Some critics of BDS argue that the movement aims to delegitimize Israeli sovereignty, while others characterize the movement and its leadership as anti-Semitic. Previously, the UTGSU Executive Committee was accused of anti-Semitism when it was hesitant to participate in Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward campaign — which aimed to bring kosher food options to campus — on the grounds that the group was pro-Israel. This subsequently led to the resignation of External Commissioner Maryssa Barras, a position which has yet to be filled.
Members of the BDS committee explained that the JDL, which the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has called an “anti-Muslim group on the extreme fringe of the Jewish community,” has disrupted BDS events in the past, and remains a safety threat to members of the committee.
As an indicator of the JDL’s threat level, BDS committee members highlighted an instance of violence by the JDL against individuals protesting a November 20 event which featured Israeli Defense Force reservists at York University.
The JDL had put out a call to disrupt the UTGSU AGM; however, no such disruptions took place.
A motion was passed at the meeting that stated that the “UTGSU membership condemns the JDL violence against York University student protestors and their allies on November 20,” and moved that the UTGSU membership put out a call to the U of T administration to ban JDL from campus.
An attempt by a member to amend the motion to not specify JDL, but rather oppose “all terrorist organizations” from campus was rejected by the membership.
The meeting began with a controversial motion by the Chair, Jeremy Rothschild, to strike the discussion on anti-Semitism; the discussion on BD; and the discussion on sanctions, divestment, or boycotts, from the agenda due to the fact that the meeting fell on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He said that members should not have to “relive what their families [experienced] and the sort of discussions that surround the question of anti-Semitism on campus.”
Rothschild felt that the membership as a collective should have the right to decide whether it wanted to engage in such discussions on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The membership rejected Rothschild’s motion to strike the motions, and thus they were kept on the agenda.
However, by the time the AGM arrived at the member’s motion opposing the BDS committee, only six minutes remained in the UTGSU’s booked time for the room. Chaim Katz, the mover, briefly explained his motion, noting that, “This is an opportunity to maintain a stance, of being active in human rights support, but not only singling out the Jewish state,” before the meeting was adjourned.
Internal Commissioner Adam Hill told The Varsity that the unaddressed motions can only be revisited at the next UTGSU AGM. The meeting also saw the UTGSU’s financial statements passed and next auditor approved by the membership.