tcsa logo 2014

At the annual general meeting (AGM) held January 29, Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) members voted to rescind the “Boycott and Divestment from Israeli Apartheid” policy resolution.

The policy was adopted in the TCSA’s 2013 AGM and stipulated that the TCSA would condemn the apartheid in Israel, and participate in an academic, cultural, and consumer boycott.

The policy established that Israel is an apartheid state by referencing United Nations declarations, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, and the International Criminal Court of Justice. Due to this state of affairs, it laid out that the union should not collaborate, cooperate, or participate in joint projects with Israeli academic and cultural institutions unless those institutions acknowledge that Israel is an apartheid state.

The campaign to rescind the policy was led by a student group called Trent4Israel. They argue that the situation in Israel should not be deemed an apartheid. “The apartheid in Israel is a subjective opinion to begin with,” said Rebecca Hubble, one of the co-founders of Trent4Israel. Corey LeBlanc, the other co-founder, added, “[the policy is] an offensive one to South Africans who suffered through, what I would call, the real Apartheid.”

From the basis that the situation in Israel is not an apartheid state, Trent4Israel demanded of the TCSA that this policy be erased. They further accused the policy of anti-Semitism drawing upon arguments that conflated the boycott of Israeli cultural institutions with a boycott of all Jewish cultural institutions. LeBlanc said, “A boycott on Israel, if not a boycott on Judaism, then what could it be?”

This sense of anti-Semitism, they argued, was making Trent’s Jewish students feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus. “The oppression that is happening in this student union is oppressing Israeli citizens and Israeli students and Jewish students on campus,” stated LeBlanc in his address at the AGM.

“I know personally I’d feel more comfortable on campus knowing that there is not this kind of hate,” said Hubble.

The opposition to the policy particularly drew on the singling out of Israel in this document when human rights abuses are occurring elsewhere. LeBlanc said during the interview, “It’s the hypocrisy of the policy, in the first place. In the macro sense, we have homosexuals executed in Saudi Arabia and abroad almost daily … to focus on what we view, and what the majority of Canadians view, as a complicated conflict and in some respects a mutual conflict between Israel and Palestine, and ignore all the other issues of the world, seems quite problematic.”

This was similar to the arguments brought up in the motion to amend the “Boycott and Divestment” policy that preceded the motion to rescind. The amendment would not only have condemned Israel but also 178 other nations (there are 196 nations in the world) that fell below a measurement on the human development index (HDI).

This motion to amend was put forward for part-time student (and non-member of the TCSA) Giorgio Berbatiotis. “Basically my motion was ridiculous. We’re not going to boycott some 170 countries. The point is, if we’re going to boycott one country based on the opinions of some students, then any students who want to boycott a country–because there’s lots of oppressive countries–should have their voices heard as well. And this will result in almost every country being boycotted.”

At the AGM, this motion to amend the Boycott and Divestment policy took 45 minutes to debate and come to a vote, which failed. This left little time to address the motion to rescind the policy.

LeBlanc, in an interview after the AGM, said, “We had it planned from the start. Obviously his motion was a satirical motion. He put forward his motion to highlight the hypocrisy in the original [policy]. And we had it planned that his motion would be voted down by anyone with a logical mind and we would come forward with our motion. So it would set the stage for our motion.”

The controversy with this motion corresponds to a larger social and academic controversy over the conflict in Israel-Palestine. The triumphant cheers by supporters of the motion to rescind and the disappointment of those opposed following the vote make it clear that the debate is alive and thriving at Trent University.