Over the past four years, I have been constantly questioned as to whether I feel safe at Ryerson as a supporter of Israel.
And each and every year, I answered that Ryerson has to be one of the most accepting university campuses ever.
Sure, everyone still has their beliefs and opinions and students are free to voice them, but it has never caused problems as large as what some other university students have experienced.
On April 2, just days before my four years here will come to an end, my answer changed.
A motion passed at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) annual general meeting for the university to join the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
The movement is pushing to boycott products that are made in Israel, as well as companies that support what people behind the movement call “Israel’s crimes.”
Over the years, the same motion has passed at 10 other universities, including York University, University of Toronto and McMaster University.
The BDS movement started in 2005 and is currently run by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC).
BNC lays down a number of claims on why it believes Israel is an apartheid state, yet there is a huge counter-movement that can rebut every claim they make.
So far, the RSU is committed only to considering the idea of a boycott. Students should understand what it would mean if such a boycott came into effect.
For Ryerson students, it would go a lot further than simply not having Sabra hummus in our cafeterias.
Just to name a few, students would have to boycott computers with Intel processors, cellphones and USB drives, which all use technology that was manufactured or originated in Israel.
Students for Justice in Palestine at Ryerson is the group that originally put the motion forward.
The group posted on its Facebook page that the motion is directed strictly at an apartheid state and not any group of people.
But when it is brought down to a university campus level, there are students who believe Israel is an apartheid state and there are students who support Israel and believe it isn’t one.
When one group of students supports something that directly attacks the beliefs of another group of students on campus, it is hard to not feel targeted based on cultural identity. The Ryersonian recently reported that when the same motion was passed at the University of Windsor on March 1, some students felt “unsafe and unwelcome.”
Police were investigating a possible hate crime that happened on the first day of the vote, when Jake De Jong, vice-president of academic affairs for the university’s student alliance, found his office ransacked, along with a
Star of David and the word “Zionist” painted over a banner on his door.
It seems there is a fine line between expressing one’s beliefs and oppressing another’s.
If the BDS motion has the ability to make other students feel uncomfortable, alienated and scared, a university cannot support it without doing the same. A students’ union is supposed to represent all students on campus.
How can it support one group’s motion if it means another group will simultaneously be oppressed?
I don’t think it can.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 9, 2014.