This week, TAs and TMs at Simon Fraser University will weigh in on an issue that has a stake in a decades-old, bitter conflict.
The Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) is holding a referendum May 15–19 on whether to adopt a policy to actively endorse and participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. TSSU members will decide via electronic vote if the union will adopt a policy requiring it to support the movement.
BDS got its start in 2005 after Palestinian organizations called for nonviolent pressure on Israel in response to the occupation of Arab lands and discrimination against Palestinians.
The policy that the TSSU is proposing would boycott Israeli products, divest from Israeli companies and others that oppress Palestinians, recommend that sanctions are enacted against Israel by the Canadian government, and call on SFU and other campus associations to adopt these measures.
Late Monday night, an email was circulated to graduate students at SFU and advertised an open letter gathering signatures against the policy.
In recent years, tensions have risen in the Israel-Palestine conflict due in part to the progressive Israel settling of the Palestinian West Bank. Earlier this year, Israel legalized thousands of controversial settlements, citing that they were established without knowledge of existing claims to ownership.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the legislation as a “contravention of international law.”
In support of adopting the BDS policy, the TSSU explains on their website that they have “always been an internationally focused union” and have participated in many other campaigns that involve social justice.
They also clarify that the vote will only govern how the TSSU will interact with Israeli enterprises, and not apply to individual members.
In letters submitted by non-members and published on the TSSU website, critics of the policy draw attention to how BDS singles out Israel among many countries with poor human rights records. There have also been reports of violence committed against anti-BDS groups, although the identity of the perpetrators has not yet been determined.
It is unclear whether the vote taking place needs to have a certain number of participants for it to be held valid.
The TSSU is the latest organization in a long list that have grappled with the BDS movement. Earlier this year, UBC students voted to reject a similar motion put forward by their Alma Mater Society and McGill’s student society experienced a similar outcome last year.
Canada has also grappled with this movement at the federal level. In early 2016, parliament passed a motion to condemn the BDS movement as “demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel,” although the UN does hold the Israeli settlements as illegal.
With files from Al Jazeera, BBC News, McGill Reporter, Metro News and The Globe and Mail.