TSSU motion is discriminatory and a threat to academic freedom

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated; the TSSU referendum about BDS principles is not


By: Rachel Altman, SFU Professor

During the week of May 15–19, the Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) will vote on whether to amend their bylaws to adopt Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) principles. You don’t need to understand the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict to see that this proposed policy change flies in the face of SFU’s culture of anti-discrimination and academic freedom.

BDS principles are entirely one-sided, demanding the boycott of Israeli products and academic institutions and other sanctions until Israel makes significant, unilateral concessions to Palestinians. Neither Palestinians nor other players on the world stage are held accountable for determining a just solution to the conflict — or even recognizing Israel’s right to exist.

Currently, the TSSU bylaws address issues such as membership, elections, and strikes. They do not list concerns about any nation or group. If the referendum passes, Israel will therefore be the only entity in the world that the TSSU sees fit to condemn.

Is Israel deserving of criticism? Absolutely. Gaza and the West Bank form the intended future state of Palestine, yet Israel controlled the former from 1967 to 2005 and still controls much of the latter.  As a matter of human rights, Israel needs to prioritize the creation of a viable Palestinian state and Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

But is Israel the only nation deserving of criticism? Absolutely not. The Israeli-Palestinian territorial dispute is but one of over a hundred worldwide, and conflicts in Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere are far deadlier. Palestinians in Arab countries other than Jordan are denied citizenship and many basic rights. In contrast, Israel treats all of its citizens, about 21% of whom are Arabs, equally under federal law.

So why is the TSSU, whose mandate is principally to protect the rights of its members in their relationships with their employer, choosing to take one side in a foreign conflict that is by no means the most extreme in a world replete with injustice and unsettled land claims?

One possible answer is that BDS is a convenient, feel-good package. The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is laid out in just half a page of simple text, and the sole villain is clearly identified. How much simpler to adopt this viewpoint than to develop a nuanced understanding of a centuries-long, fearsomely complex conflict!

Although BDS targets Israel, not Jews, understanding the fundamental connection between Israel and Judaism is critical to understanding the impact of BDS on Jews. Specifically, almost every Jewish prayer contains a reference to Israel, and the language of Jewish Israelis (Hebrew) is the language of these prayers. The stories of the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) are centred around Israel. Many Jews living around the world have family in Israel. It’s a place of refuge for Jews escaping persecution and hate crimes, crimes that, in Canada and elsewhere, are higher than for any other religious group.

Therefore, I, like most Jews, experience the selective targeting of Israel as personally threatening. And when SFU organizations support the BDS movement, a movement whose co-founder openly states that “we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine” and whose leading proponent admits that “the real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel,” I can’t stand silent.

President Andrew Petter wrote, “SFU is an institution whose strength is based on our shared commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Students at UBC, McGill, and Waterloo all recently voted down BDS referenda in the name of these values. Likewise, the list of SFU faculty and staff who have signed the open letter in opposition to the TSSU referendum is growing. If you are a TSSU member, I urge you to do likewise and VOTE ‘NO’ in the TSSU referendum.

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