Written by: Nancy La, Staff Writer
This is a developing story that The Peak may cover in future pieces. Find previous reports of the motion here.
On May 19, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) motion passed a motion in solidarity with Palestinian students. It discusses Israel and its acts of violence against Palestinians, such as attacks on residential grounds and mosques. SFSS’ statement included a call to action to “initiate, support, and amplify” Palestinian calls to join BDS campaigns.
During the motion meeting, Palestinian writer and researcher Dalya Masri urged the SFSS to participate in BDS to help end the oppression of Palestinians. Masri’s presentation at the meeting detailed the Israeli government’s military use to control Gaza and prevent Palestinian resistance, and highlighted the necessity of the BDS movement.
“Many Palestinians call for the BDS movement as the number one thing you can do,” Masri said, adding that “many campuses have actually used BDS as a form of accountability.”
In an email statement to The Peak, she said, “The SFSS council’s motion, who are following the precedent from divestment policies globally, alleviate the stigma and fear associated with organizing for Palestinian freedom.”
Palestinian student Lara Radwan said, “Happy to see the SFSS stand on the right side of history as they stop letting businesses profit off of genocide and ethnic cleansing. We all play a part in making a change, and glad to see the SFSS take theirs.”
On June 25, the Hillel Jewish Students Association published an announcement on social media condemning the SFSS’ statement on the occupation of Palestine and its support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Hillel’s statement claimed BDS “sows hate and division” within student populations at SFU. They added the BDS movement is “not a call for peaceful communication or an equitable solution.” They also claim BDS is unsuccessful in its effort to free Palestine and highlighted their concerns of safety for Jewish students is not to be taken as delegitimizing Palestinian rights.
In an email interview with The Peak, Hillel pointed to the lack of Jewish consultation during the process of passing the motion. “Our most significant concern with regards to this motion is that it seemed to be passed hastily and could have unintended consequences for Jewish and Israeli students on campus,” Hillel’s spokespersons — who wish to remain anonymous — said.
Regarding concerns over consulting Hillel for the motion, SFSS’ vice president, equity and sustainability Marie Haddad said the SFSS had a meeting with Hillel after the motion passed where the two parties “had a productive, honest, and organic conversation that focused on the safety of Jewish and Palestinian students on campus.”
In an email interview to The Peak, an anonymous Jewish student said, “Hillel does not represent Jewish students on any campus because Hillel is a Pro-Israel group.” The student added, “Hillel falsely claims that it represents our voices.”
Masri told The Peak, “Palestinians on campus and in Student Justice for Palestine [a coalition of Palestinian and Jewish students] have long been subject to anti-Palestinian racism, social media doxxing from various groups and administrations, their academic and profesional careers ruined, all solely for their identity and their advocacy to demand their freedom. The Palestinian movement has no room for anti semitism and it is quite discriminatory to equate such a thing with Palestinian liberation in the first place.
“When it comes to the power dynamics of oppressor versus oppressed, it is difficult to stand with ‘both sides,’ and there is only one right side to ensure justice, equality, and liberation.”
In a joint email statement with SFSS president Gabe Liosis, councillor Zaid Lari and Haddad said there were issues with Hillel’s own restrictions regarding what they can endorse. Because Hillel SFU is part of Hillel International, they are required to abide by the regulations set out by the root organization.
According to Haddad, these regulations meant Hillel SFU is not allowed to support BDS movements or work with those who do. She discussed how the policy also forbids the group from “working with groups that ‘apply a double standard’ or or a group that ‘delegitimizes Israel.’”
In her statement, Masri added, “Objectively, it is quite difficult to declare support for both sides, which is what most people are now coming to terms with [in realizing] settler-colonialism and occupation are not debatable. The SFSS Council has taken the steps to ensure they use their power as a student council and perform an effective act of condemnation and support for Palestinians.”
Regarding the BDS movement, Hillel claims it is not an effective method to solve the ongoing situation in Palestine.
In the SFSS’ joint statement, Haddad said BDS “is targeted at isolating the state of Israel politically and economically so Israel could not continue to implement its apartheid practices. It also pushes to divest away from complicit companies and the Israeli institutions that specifically violate Palestinian human rights,” Haddad said.
In their response, Hillel spoke about its recognition of criticism for Israel and how the group also “practice[s] active criticism of the Israeli government.” In their statement, they said critique of Israeli policy is valid. In its criticism of the BDS movement, Hillel highlighted the “significant number of activists and branches of BDS (official Facebook pages, for example) that espouse Nazi-esque antisemitic rhetoric.”
Liosis clarified what it meant for SFSS to support the BDS movement while being against bigotry on campus.
“We will continue to amplify and center Palestinian voices, ensure Jewish student safety, and will always be willing to have difficult conversations and reject all forms of bigotry. We would also like to caution from framing this as a conflict between religious groups, as the actions of Israel should not be framed as actions of Jewish people as Jewish folks aren’t a monolith.”
Councillor Zaid Lari, who proposed the BDS motion said, “Palestinian solidarity, Jewish safety, and Muslim safety are not mutually exclusive. Applying a boycott of the Israeli regime and its enablers is simply a method to aid in bringing about the liberation of the Palestinian peoples through meaningful action.”
The Peak also reached out to SFU Students for Justice in Palestine, but did not receive a response by publication deadline.
Hillel stated they were invited to the SFSS’ working group to draft policies for BDS. However, because of their opposition to BDS, Hillel said they will be hosting their own meetings to “[foster] a more open and equitable dialogue.”
In regards to campus action, Masri said, “It’s not enough to introduce anti-racism policies. diversity and inclusion workshops. Universities must actively combat anti-Palestinian racism and censorship, a very prominent and malevolent type of attack against Palestinian organizers and youth.”
The SFSS urged students to learn more about the ongoing issues in Palestine and to show support for Palestinian peers and communities through online resources such as the Decolonize Palestine website.