News  First BDS Week held at Concordia

A look at the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement at Concordia and McGill

Between October 26 and 30, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia organized a week-long campaign dedicated to raising awareness about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

BDS Week was the first of its kind at Concordia, and featured speakers such as Kanien’kehá:ka activist Clifton Nicholas, human rights attorney and activist Noura Erakat, and Palestine-based independent journalist Dan Cohen. The week also featured musical performances by Saeed Kamjoo, Julien Ottavi, and JKPickett as part of the Howl! fall event series.

Last year, between November 25 and 27, Concordia students passed a referendum that asked students, “Do you approve of the [Concordia Students’ Union (CSU)] endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel?”

The initial draft of the question included “until Israel complies with International Law and Universal Principle[s] of Human Rights,” but this section was removed by the CSU Judicial Board prior to the referendum.

According to Rami Yahia, a member of SPHR Concordia, the availability of funding from the CSU for Concordia’s BDS Week is a direct result of last year’s ‘yes’ vote.

“We had a referendum vote where all the students could participate, whereas at McGill, [the GA included just] whatever students decided to show up to that [GA], on that particular time on that particular day, [when there] was a snowstorm.”

The week also coincided with the one year anniversary of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Fall General Assembly (GA), where students voted to indefinitely postpone a motion calling on SSMU to stand in solidarity with the people of the occupied Palestinian territories. The motion was brought up in response to Operation Protective Edge, launched by the Israeli military in Summer 2014.

Later in March, another motion proposed by SPHR concerning divestment from companies profiting from the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories was defeated. Some students opposed the motion on the grounds that it was allegedly affiliated with the BDS movement.

Abdulla Daoud, another member of SPHR Concordia, explained that the SSMU motion was not concerned with standing in solidarity with the BDS movement, but rather with specifically divesting from companies.

“We know [SPHR McGill], we work closely with them. They’re very strong and passionate people. We believe that there is really no difference as far as what happened at McGill and what happened at Concordia – only as far as how the structure is,” Daoud told The Daily.

“We had a referendum vote where all the students could participate, whereas at McGill, [the GA included just] whatever students decided to show up to that [GA], on that particular time on that particular day, [when there] was a snowstorm.”

Michael McCauley, a member of SPHR McGill, said, “We had, I think, more difficulty with motivating people to come out and walk through the snow to get there. Whereas, there was more motivation from the people who were mobilizing against us, despite the fact that I really do think that there is a lot more sympathy toward [the] Palestinian cause than was reflected at that particular GA.”

Criticism of BDS

In an email to The Daily, Hillel McGill president Rayna Lew argued that the BDS movement is reductive.

“BDS simply does not create an academic space for discussion on the conflict, peace, or resolution. […] The movement polarizes the issue and does not invite nuanced discussion from either side,” Lew said.

Jordan Devon, a U2 Political Science student, agreed with Lew, stating that BDS supporters fail to understand the complexities of Israeli society. Although Devon is co-president of Israel on Campus (IOC), his statement was not made on behalf of the organization. “For this fundamental reason, the BDS movement is failing to achieve its goal, particularly to inflict enough pressure on Israeli society so that its government will abolish certain policies pertaining to the Palestinians,” said Devon.

Devon expressed that it is possible to be critical of the BDS movement and the Israeli state at the same time. “Being pro-Israel or Zionist is not a monolithic identity; it is not confined to supporting the current Israeli government or the settlement program; it is not manifested through blindly defending every action undertaken by Israel,” he said.

But according to Daoud, “[BDS is] the most non-violent and peaceful way a person in North America can aid in resisting the occupation that occurs right now in the West Bank and Gaza. It’s very diplomatic, very concise, very strong, and very easy to do.”

McCauley explained that the BDS movement adopts a human rights – based approach. “There is generally a pretty broad consensus [that] BDS in Palestine […] doesn’t exist for support for political parties or support for a one- versus two-state solution.”

“So, as I see it, despite any sort of criticism that you may have of the ultimate goals of BDS, […] it’s something that you nevertheless have a responsibility to support because it’s a direct call that was made by the Palestinians themselves,” McCauley stated.