A motion regarding support for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement passed at the Feb. 22 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter General Assembly (GA), with 512 students voting “Yes,” 357 voting “No,” and 14 abstentions. The two other motions up for vote passed with no discussion from the assembly: Motion for an increase in indigenous content at McGill, and a motion regarding procurement of products containing conflict minerals. All three move to ratification by undergraduate students in the upcoming online referendum.
The Motion to Support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions Movement mandates SSMU to support campaigns associated with the worldwide BDS movement, and to lobby McGill University at its Board of Governors to withdraw investments in companies such as Re/Max, L-3 Communications, and the Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.
“This call for BDS states that such campaigns are to remain in place until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination, and fully complies with the precepts of international law,” the motion reads.
Students debated for nearly two hours in the SSMU Ballroom, with overflow rooms elsewhere in the Shatner University Centre hosting a livestream of the event and allowing students to vote. Those who spoke in favour of a “No” vote cited the potential divisiveness of this motion, and worry that passing BDS would cause a climate of fear among students who feel the decision does not represent them.
"The McGill student body prides itself on our diversity, yet why is when it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, [is there] an attempt is made to make our campus homogeneous?” asked Maya Rosenkrantz, U3 Science. “This motion contradicts SSMU’s safer space policy, as BDS proposes a cultural boycott of Israel, alienating students who belong to that culture [….] Students’ mental health is on the line. Students who identify as Israeli or Zionist are genuinely afraid that if that motion passes, they will not be able to truly express their identity on campus. No student should ever be afraid [of that]."
Supporters of the motion attempted to clarify its purpose—divesting McGill from holdings associated with certain Israeli settlements military effort—while at times, relating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to apartheid in South Africa.
"As a Palestinian, you do not speak for us," Laura Khoury, U2 Engineering, said. "Please do not speak on behalf of my lived experience [….] It’s your moral obligation as people of social conscience to answer this call. It is not your obligation to tell us what is being done to us. Would any of you here have been in support of South African Apartheid? [….] No, you would have not."
Students were reminded by Speaker Benjamin Dionne to maintain silent decorum through the debate by refraining from applause, and by their peers to treat the sensitive topic with respect for both sides.
"I would just like to say, as somebody who prides themselves on being both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, as somebody who is very personally affected by this conflict, I ask […] please engage in moderation,” said one first-year student in the Faculty of Law. “Engage in a dialogue that would endorse both people's rights to self-determination.”
Motion in support of Kahtihon’tia:kwenio (women title holders of the land)
Cadence O’Neal, U3 Arts, moved a motion in support of indigenous women title holders from the floor, which was tabled until the next GA in Fall 2016 in order to undergo consultation from the indigenous student community at McGill. This motion was developed alongside Kahnawake women, frustrated with McGill's lack of response to their notice of seizure of the unceded territory the university occupies.
"The students who are moving this motion hope to both remind students who are here […] that this is an ongoing issue, that McGill has ongoing political context, and that our university […] is very much involved in a [settler-colonial] situation here," O’Neal said.
Ashley Dawn Louise Bach, coordinator of the Indigenous Student Alliance, expressed concern that the motion was neither publicized prior to the event, nor included any feedback from her organization.
"I would just like to point out that there was no consultation with the Indigenous Student Alliance […] in the making of this motion,” Bach said . I actually hadn't heard of it until earlier today […] and I feel that this lack of consultation is just a perpetuation of the colonial problems we have at this university."
Movers of the motion agreed to seek further input from the indigenous community at McGill before reintroducing it at the next GA.