UPDATED: RSU vote on Israel sends meeting into chaos

(Jackie Hunter/ Ryersonian staff)

(Jackie Hunter/ Ryersonian staff)

The Ryerson Students’ Union annual general meeting erupted in protests yesterday when members voted in favour of the RSU joining the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

More than 100 people gathered in the student centre to vote at the annual general meeting, which started 45 minutes late because of the large turnout.

When members voted in favour of the RSU joining the Palestinian BDS movement, some members began yelling and swearing into the microphone and went to the front of the room holding signs condemning the vote.

One person screamed “this is f–king bullshit.” Another screamed, “this is unfair.”

The BDS movement aims to shun companies that do business with Israel, including Costco, Sears, Canadian Tire and Home Depot. It says those companies indirectly fund what it calls Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression.

With the vote, Ryerson has entered a contentious situation that 10 other universities across Canada have faced. As the Ryersonian reported, the University of Windsor was the most recent post-secondary institution to vote on the issue.

If the RSU joins the BDS movement, products such as Sabra Hummus, which is available at Ryerson’s Hub cafeteria, would be boycotted because of its supposed support of the Israeli military.

Mohammed Horreya, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine who brought forward the motion, said he was happy that members voted in favour of the BDS movement. He said he has collected 1,500 signatures in support of Ryerson joining in BDS.

“This has been going on since 2005, I feel that it’s about time Ryerson has caught on,” said Horreya. “There is no reason to storm out and get upset. I understand a lot of emotions are involved in this but it opens up the dialogue.”

There were motions to defer the vote until the next year’s general meeting and to put it to a student-wide referendum.  Both motions were defeated. The discussion was cut short when members voted to go directly into a vote.

“By putting through the boycott it is directly targeting the Israeli citizens and students on campus,” said Jessie Saunders-Drutz, a first-year radio and television arts student.

“Walking in here we were a minority, it felt like 90 to 10. Our say was not heard and any option to have a referendum or postpone it a year was defeated instantly because the numbers…were so uneven.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the umbrella strategic planning organization for Canadian Jewish Congress, Canada-Israel Committee, Quebec-Israel Committee and University Outreach Committee, has condemned Ryerson’s BDS vote. In a statement released Thursday it said, “The Ryerson Student Union has just demonstrated a shameful display of anti-Israel bigotry. BDS is neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-peace; it is simply anti-Israel. Its sole aim is the singling out and deligitimization of the Jewish State. On campuses it serves to alienate Jewish and other pro-Israel students and to pointlessly divide campus communities.”

The Ryerson Students’ Union vice-president equity and next year’s incoming president, Rajean Hoilett, said the meeting gave members an opportunity to engage in issues and set a direction for the RSU.

“I think that often times you see motions come forward that people are invested in that cause emotions to rise and that’s completely understandable,” said Hoilett.

“I think that we gave a space for students to be able to engage in these conversations respectfully.”

When a motion is passed, it means the RSU will consider the issue in the upcoming year. The incoming RSU executives and board members can either discuss the issue and put work into developing a campaign, or they can choose to research the motion further before making a decision. A motion that is amended does not mean it will automatically be put in place by the RSU, but instead that the majority of members have voted in favour of it.

Hajar Abualrb, a first-year biomedical science student, has attended RSU general meetings before, and said she was surprised that students couldn’t discuss the issue peacefully.

“I thought it would be peaceful and just voting and following the rules, but I was a bit shocked and kind of got afraid for a second because they got a bit overwhelming. They just kind of stormed out and started yelling things,” said Abualrb.

“I’ve attended previous meetings and some of the same topics were brought up and it was peaceful, so I was a bit shocked. But majority rules so even if you don’t get what you want it’s voting and procedure.”

When University of Windsor students voted to support the BDS movement in March, many students complained about the referendum process and said it made them feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus.

Following the U of Windsor vote, the vice-president of academic affairs for the university’s student alliance, found his office ransacked. His hanging “Support Our Troops” banner was spray-painted in blue with the Star of David and the word “Zionist.”

Windsor police investigated the incident as a possible hate crime.

Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson, weighed in on the University of Windsor referendum discussion in March and said he wouldn’t want students to feel unsafe on Ryerson’s campus.

“I sure hope that we never have that movement at Ryerson, to say quite honestly,” he said. “If you ask me would I ever want anything at the university that hurts the inclusive nature of our campus, the answer would be no.” A spokesman for Levy said today that he will address the RSU’s passing of the motion next week.

Students for Justice in Palestine will hold a celebratory rally on Gould Street next Thursday at 4 p.m.

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