Transform RU shouldn’t stay mum about Israeli apartheid

By Billy Johnson

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: will this be the new Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) policy towards international politics, especially in regards to Israel? It shouldn’t be.

During the recent elections, pro-Israel students criticized the incumbent slate, Unite Ryerson, for its support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. This, along with the RSU’s series of events and workshops known as Israeli Apartheid Week, was lambasted by pro-Israel groups on campus as “divisive” and “anti-Semitic.”

Transform RU, which won the elections by a landslide, has yet to take any stance on BDS or Israeli Apartheid Week. However, there have been numerous calls for the group to change the RSU’s position on the issue. Whether they do or they don’t, they shouldn’t be afraid to take a stance on international issues.

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That’s because Canadian students have long been involved and invested in international politics. Two notable examples: our protests against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

With that in mind, I say that the criticism that Unite’s promotion of BDS and Israeli Apartheid Week is anti-Semitic holds no substance.

There is no racism in criticizing Israel and its policies, the same way criticizing America’s foreign policy does not make one anti-American. Those who argue otherwise often maintain that the anti-Semitism is insidious; after all, why do we choose to criticize Israel, a democracy, while ignoring the many human rights abuses of the Arab world?

Those making this argument need to understand that Israel is criticized because it is a democracy, not in spite of it. We hold Israel to a higher standard of behaviour than we do Syria or Iran. Or, are pro-Israel voices saying that Israel belongs on the same moral footing as Middle Eastern autocratic dictatorships?

The anti-Semitism charge also rests on the premise that the Jewish identity is inseparable from the Israeli one. This is, of course, untrue. There are many Jewish people across many nations who are no more Israeli than most Canadians. Some of Israel’s biggest critics hail from ultra-orthodox Jewish communities who are often seen at pro-Palestinian demonstrations. To criticize someone as anti-Semitic because of their views on Israeli policy towards Palestinians is a straw man argument. Not only that, it is undemocratic and only works to shut down debate surrounding the issue.

Politics is divisive – just ask the opponents and proponents of the Freeze the Fees campaign. For the RSU to shy away from campaigning against international war crimes, Israeli or otherwise, because of “divisiveness” is moral cowardice. What our student union should do is ascertain directly from the student body whether BDS is a policy that Ryerson students want to continue. We should not be intimidated away from the issue on weak charges of prejudice and divisiveness. I, for one, want my student union to take a stand on moral issues both on campus and further afield, and I think many other students would agree.


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