Author of the article:Sue-Ann Levy
Publishing date:Feb 08, 2021
After fighting doggedly for five years against his student union for endorsing the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, U of T graduate student Chaim Katz finally got traction this past week.
In a decision from the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies panel — the appeal body of last resort — the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (UTGSU) was informed that their dedicated BDS committee/caucus had violated its own anti-discrimination policy by encouraging boycotts based on one distinct nation, namely Israel.
In what the B’nai Brith characterized as “landmark” ruling, the union was also ordered to quit using student fees to promote the anti-Israel BDS movement and to revise its bylaws so that any calls for boycotts by such a committee do not single out the Middle Eastern nation.
The BDS movement, which borrows from the South African anti-apartheid movement and is supported by a range of academics, unions, artists, and special interest groups, calls for the delegitimization of Israel by boycotting its products, sanctioning Israelis who attempt to appear at some North American and European university campuses, and by pressuring artists, singers and others to not perform in the country.
Respected legal mind Alan Dershowitz recently penned a book in which he states emphatically that singling out Israel for boycotts is anti-Semitic.
The union has until March 1 to indicate how it will implement the panel’s recommendations and a year to put the measures in place.
“This is a massive victory for Jewish students at U of T and across Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, noting that the UTGSU is the only student union in Canada that forces all members — even Jewish students — to fund a BDS committee through their student fees.
The 29-year-old Katz, reached Friday, said it was an “arduous process” involving four separate appeals, speaking at union AGMs and board meetings, and collaborating with many grad students who came and went over the years.
Throughout, he said, it was a constant “procedural struggle” and a “struggle” to get Jewish students to speak out.
“I was trying to advocate for (Jewish) students to feel safe and to improve the student experience,” he said.
He said the ruling was “quite successful” in that the BDS committee — if the union follows through on the ruling — will no longer be able to host anti-Israel events and speakers to promote the boycott of Israel and will allow students to opt-out of their fees to the BDS committee if it continues to target Israel.
Lwanga Musisi, the university governance commissioner of the grad union (who, according to his Facebook page, is pursuing a PhD in social justice), could not be reached for comment.
But his executive committee has repeatedly insisted in appeals and to the panel that the BDS committee has only supported a campaign to financially divest from companies that “benefit from violations of international law and human rights abuses” in the “occupied Palestinian territories” and does not discriminate against members based on their affiliation with the Jewish state of Israel.