On March 21, 2013 bold-faced racism returned to a Canadian campus in official form. Racism by individuals and by fringe groups has never disappeared, but now we have the student federation of one of the largest universities in Canada quietly guiding itself back into the abyss.
On this day the York Federation of Students (YFS) at York University in Toronto voted to accept a motion of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) targeting the State of Israel. Boycotting Israeli products, or even companies that do business in Israel, is shameful, but not racist (at least not demonstrably). However, this motion includes a boycott of all Israeli academics. Persecution based on your country of origin can be described as nothing less than flagrant racism, and were it any other nationality our media would have plastered it on every TV station and every newspaper. But alas, it has taken nearly two weeks for any major media outlet to notice.
Maclean’s, a major Canadian magazine, refers to Chaim Lax, the President of the Jewish organization Hasbara, merely "alleging" the resolution is racist. His comments (seen here) illustrate very clearly how the motion is racist, and to diminish it is insulting to any one who truly despises discrimination. Yet Safiyah Husein, vice-president equity of the YFS, has the audaciousness to claim, “We engage in anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia, and anti-sexism campaigns not because they are popular, but because they are right, and they are important to our members.” Hypocrisy at its finest.
This comes only a few years after the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) tried the same move. Its Ontario President, Sid Ryan (known for his extreme political views) said, “We are ready to say Israeli academics should not be on our campuses unless they explicitly condemn the university bombing and the assault on Gaza in general.” But realizing the inherent racism of such a resolution - or more likely realizing the bad press that would follow such a racist resolution – CUPE backed down and focused on Israeli institutions rather than individuals. It goes without mentioning that some Israeli academics themselves commonly and publicly lash out at Israel for its actions.
Opposing groups have often claimed the YFS works in a deceitful fashion, undercutting the true sentiment of York students (recently banning anti-abortion student clubs, for example). Additionally, YFS approving the motion will have little teeth since it is not binding on the University.
Nevertheless, the fact that such a blatantly racist motion can pass, and be justified publicly, by the main student union of one of Canada’s biggest and most well-known universities is a travesty. Political extremists should not be able to coerce our system into supporting racist resolutions. The thought of our campuses becoming hotbeds for racism under the guise of fighting it, is truly a sad state of affairs.
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