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SCSU removes kosher food section from BDS policy

Removal follows criticism from President Gertler, Jewish student groups
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The meeting featured a discussion on the BDS movement. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
The meeting featured a discussion on the BDS movement. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) board has voted to remove a section on kosher food restrictions from its Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) policy, following criticism from U of T President Meric Gertler and Jewish student groups who said the policy was antisemitic. The removal was made seven days after the policy was first approved.  

Board reverses decision

The change was made to a policy that reaffirmed the SCSU’s commitment to BDS — a movement which advocates boycotting Israel due to its occupation of the Palestinian territories — thereby putting a number of restrictions on what companies the SCSU can work with. The removal will go to the Policy and Bylaws Committee next for final approval. 

The amendment removed the following note from the original policy: “Efforts should be made to source Kosher food from organizations that do not normalize Israeli apartheid, however recognizing the limited availability of this necessity then excemptions can be made if no alternatives are available.” 

Jewish student leaders said that the policy on kosher food created barriers for Jewish students to find kosher food options. The SCSU released a statement this week apologizing for the “distress that our miscommunication has caused the Jewish community on campus.”

SCSU President Sarah Abdillahi brought forward a motion to remove the kosher food section from the policy. At the board meeting, Abdillahi said that the SCSU “[recognized] that the language relating to the access of Kosher food caused a lot of great distress for our Jewish members.”

“We wanted to take immediate action and make the necessary steps to amend the motion and remove this note.” She added that it was never the SCSU’s intention to restrict access to kosher food, but she understands that “impact of [their] actions supersedes intent.” 

In a statement to The Varsity, Abdillahi wrote that they removed the note “because people thought that we were trying to ban Kosher food which is 100% inaccurate considering SCSU has always been fighting for Kosher food at UTSC.” 

Abdillahi later clarified that the SCSU does not plan on adding any explicit protections for kosher food into the BDS policy, but will instead work with UTSC’s Food and Beverage Department to make sure kosher food options are provided on campus. 

She added that they included the note about kosher food to the policy in the first place because the groups they had consulted with on the policy asked the SCSU to include a similar clause. 

Two students present at the meeting, Director of Physical and Environmental Sciences Maxwell Fine and Evan Kanter, a student member of U of T’s Governing Council, argued against removing the kosher food section, saying that removing the note on kosher food means there are now no explicit protections for kosher food providers in the policy. 

“Instead of addressing the fundamental discriminatory things within BDS, we’re just taking away the exemption for kosher food providers if they support the Israeli people,” said Fine.

In her statement to The Varsity, Abdillahi claimed that “The BDS Policy is separate from Kosher food at UTSC and vice versa.” 

Director resignation

In a Facebook post on December 4, Anastasiya Gordiychuk announced her resignation as the Director of Arts Culture and Media at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU). In her post, she raised concerns about what she believes is the overpolitization of the SCSU. 

She wrote, “Personally, I do not think it is within the scope of a student union to take sides in any geopolitical conflict because it divides the student population and doesn’t create an inclusive environment.”

After reading the statement the SCSU released on its Instagram, Gordiychuk decided to resign. She claimed that the members of the SCSU board of directors were not made aware of this statement prior to its release, and that she does not know who wrote the statement. “I cannot agree with the exclusion of members of the Board from the discussion about public statements which are made on behalf of the union,” wrote Gordiychuk.

Gordiychuk added that whenever the SCSU has released a public statement in the past, it has been correctly labelled as having been written by the executives

Nevertheless, Gordiychuk believes that the only way for the SCSU to move forward is to “[s]trictly follow the procedures,” focus on issues that will improve student life on campus, and, if needed, create a separate forum for political discussions.

The Varsity has reached out to the SCSU for comment. 

Disclosure: Gordiychuk was formerly a Business & Labour Associate at The Varsity

Editor’s note (December 4): This article has been updated to include another statement from Abdillahi. 

Editor’s note (December 5): This article has been updated to include Anastasiya Gordiychuk’s resignation.