On January 29, Gzowksi College became home for the Trent Central Student Association’s (TCSA) annual general meeting (AGM).
And while it is no secret that this year’s AGM hosted a lot of unsettling emotions, you may have only heard the thoughts of one side.
Senior student Abdullah Alotaibi is one of the many individuals that feels hurt and confused by what happened at the recent AGM, when a majority of the attending membership voted to rescind the union’s BDS policy against the Israeli apartheid. However, after screenshots showing a conversation between former-TCSA president and AGM chair Braden Freer and Trent4Israel member Cory LeBlanc were brought to light on Monday, February 23, Alotaibi thinks he understands why the meeting went the way it did.
Alotaibi is the former president of the Trent Muslim Student Association (TMSA), an umbrella group for the Muslim, Arab, and Saudi students at Trent, which currently represents around two hundred students. Alotaibi additionally founded the Trent Saudi Student Association (TSSA) in 2011.
According to him, neither the TMSA nor the TSSA were made aware of the meeting beforehand. “I found out five minutes before and rushed to get there,” he said.
This lack of communication was not the only oddity at the AGM, however, as the meeting started a half-hour late, President Freer submitted an illegal proposal concerning the TCSA bylaws, and the room was booked with only an hour between the end of the meeting and start of the next scheduled class. This was odd because it was well-known that there were huge issues to be discussed.
Beginning only a half-hour from the end of the meeting, the Trent4Israel presentation on the rescindment motion, which did not provide clear sources and used arguably wrong facts, lasted a full 17 minutes and left less than 10 minutes for the membership to debate it’s merit.
“During [the Trent4Israel] presentation, I was punching their facts into my phone only to find that they were complete lies,” attendee Lang commented, who wished to have their first name withheld. “Is that even legal?” The minutes from the AGM do not include the Trent4Israel presentation and therefore specific instances of false facts cannot be confirmed.
However, during the presentation Trent4Israel did argue that Israel is a state that supports the rights of LGBTQ individuals which, according to Ryerson University professor Alan Sears is problematic.
Sears, who is also a member of Faculty for Palestine and an ally of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, explains that to take this approach is to invisibilize the Palestinian people by distracting from the other things going on in the apartheid state of Israel.
In response to this attempt at pinkwashing, Sears states that the model of lesbian and gay life in this sense presumes that sexual freedom is connected to imperialism, but in fact the history of same-sex marriage freedom is not so simple.
One needs only to look as far as the LGBTQ groups in Canada to see their complicated intersectionality. “Conquering people and depriving them of their rights is a project of uplift…[and] we should be suspicious that we do not have access to LGBTQ Palestinians to ask them if these processes feel like freedom to them,” says Sears.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel states that “in Israel, the LGBT community still faces various forms of discrimination by government authorities and in the private sector. LGBT men and women, and particularly transgender persons, also experience discrimination in employment and health services, and are often the target of verbal and physical violence.”
Furthermore, Slate Magazine’s Liam Hoare writes that while out-of-state marriage certificates of the LGBTQ community are recognized by Israel, gay marriage itself is not legal in Israel as it is a deciding issue of the church; there are no civil marriages.
At the meeting, Trent4Israel also argued that to boycott against the Israeli state is to boycott against Judaism. However, Michael Neumann, a retired Trent University professor and author of several book—including The Case Against Israel (2005)—says that this is simply not the case.
As a Jewish person, Neumann says that he thinks that it is especially important for him to voice his concern about the Israeli apartheid. He explains that “to oppose the state of Israel’s government and policies is not even to be anti-Israeli, let alone anti-Jewish… To oppose a government and its policies is not to oppose the people it governs.”
Neumann also says that within the Jewish community there are still conflicting viewpoints about the Israel/Palestine situation. “There are many Jews, some within Israel itself, who strongly and loudly oppose Israel’s policies. Many of these Jews actually support sanctions against Israel.”
Groups such as Independent Jewish Voices, Not in My Name, and Jews Against Zionism are examples of of Jewish organizations that exist to voice their concerns against the Israeli apartheid.
Alotaibi was disappointed to see that students in favour of the stripping the TCSA’s BDS policy got to speak repeatedly and were jumping ahead of students waiting in line to speak against the rescindment.
While Robert’s Rules of Order states that the speakers for and against are supposed to be three and three unless extended evenly, the situation turned out to have five speakers for and only two against before the vote was called.
For Alotaibi, the TCSA’s BDS policy was a great way to stand for justice and he felt proud to attend a school with a student membership that stood up for social justice in such a way.
“Now it is gone,” he said. “I couldn’t believe [the rescindment] happened.”
Atolaibi expressed his serious concern about the promotional materials being provided by the Trent4Israel group. “[The voting student body] have no idea how [the Apartheid situation] really is… They just saw a presentation. In the last five years, there were more than three wars in Gaza, with over 2000 [Palestinian] deaths in just the last [one]… [Israel] is portrayed as beautiful, and as a different place than it truly is.”
In fact, there were 2,104 people were killed in Gaza with the UN estimating 69% of these deaths were civilian. This is in contrast to 67 Israeli soldiers killed and six civilians killed in Israel. (Figures as of 9 Oct. Sources: Palestinian Ministry of Health, OCHA, IDF.)
“It is the right of the Palestinians to defend themselves,” Atolaibi comments on the Israeli deaths. The death toll difference is one that is often blurred and made to look like an equal war. “It is so much worse than students know.”
[Author’s Note: While writing this story this author was repeatedly harassed, threatened with violence, and told not to publish such an article. Despite the attempted intimidation, this author believes that freedom of expression should prevail and has therefore decided to go ahead with their work.]