Palestinian Solidarity Group BDS Referendum Statement
The University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) would like to clear up the misinformation that’s been spread by the media in regards to the BDS referendum which was recently passed, as well as respond to the recent statements by President Alan Wildeman.
Many have falsely claimed the referendum was on a “boycott of Israel” or of companies which “support or are from Israel.” Various other inaccuracies in the coverage show how easy it is to get away with complete fabrications when it comes to Palestinian human rights activism.
Almost nowhere in the media coverage has the actual referendum question been presented. In actuality, the referendum question asks the UWSA to participate in BDS by simply divesting from “companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression,” which is following the BDS approach of the United Church of Canada, CUPE Ontario, and the many other student unions who have passed BDS.
“BDS” or “boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” are simply three tactics any individual or group can use, there is no official ‘BDS’ global group or organization: the Palestinian call for these tactics have led the vast majority of the groups willing to respond to use them specifically against companies enabling the cruel military occupation, oppression and war crimes imposed on the Palestinian territories.
Part of the campaigning for the referendum pointed out that normalizing economic relations with the illegal Israeli settlements built on the occupied Palestinian territories has been condemned by various UN officials and human rights organizations who demand companies not be complicit in such violations of international law. It is not only reasonable to boycott such companies but necessary if we wish to not be complicit in their breaches of the law. None of these facts have been reported by the media, but the PSG hopes that University of Windsor students who may be confused will have the opportunity to properly understand what was passed and see through all the misinformation.
So let us repeat this: there was no “boycott of Israel” or boycott of “companies from Israel” voted on last week. It was a very targeted proposal to divest from companies enabling the Israeli military occupation, which is why students voted in favour of the referendum.
Yet, it seems as though the administration has caved into pressure that’s resulted from the misinformation, as evident in President Wildeman’s letter to students on the topic. We naturally expect the administration to be against such social justice initiatives from students, as it also resisted the South African BDS movement when our campus was the first in Canada to join. Comments in his letter such as “only 798 students supported the referendum’s ‘yes’ result,” are being made to try and delegitimize the validity of this referendum’s results. 1393 students participated in the referendum, above the 10% required for quorum. Low voter turnout is the standard in UWSA and student elections in general; all students were still given the opportunity to vote in this referendum.
The PSG took the principled step of requiring this question to go to referendum specifically to allow students to make this choice themselves instead of just asking the UWSA Council, which has been the standard method of passing BDS-related motions on every other Canadian campus. We have been applauded as the first campus in Canada to join the movement through undergraduate referendum.
Our efforts leading up to this referendum were such that we were able to attain five-hundred student signatures in support of the referendum, and we then presented our question to the UWSA which approved it contingent on the UWSA’s lawyer’s approval. The question got the green light from the lawyer and so the referendum proceeded. The president of the PSG took the time to meet with President Alan Wildeman to inform him about the intentions and effects of the referendum before the campaigning began, and the UWSA Council also required leaders of both sides to have a meeting with the Office of Human Rights. There was no abuse of process here: there was actually extraordinary care taken during the entire process, with precautions that aren’t required for any other UWSA referendum.
The issue of student safety and discomfort is one that PSG took very seriously, which is why so much effort was made beforehand to prepare. The PSG, as stated in its constitution, is against all forms of hate speech, oppression and racism. However, claims that it is racist or discomforting to simply propose divestment from companies enabling war crimes would not be considered legitimate in any other context: our divestment from companies facilitating South African apartheid was not racist, for example.
The referendum is a condemnation of occupation, war crimes and oppression, not any ethnicity, religion, national group or country. The issue is the oppressive policies and breaches of international law. BDS has countless Jewish supporters, both within our own group, and outside of it (i.e. Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which has endorsed BDS). And of course there are many Israelis who support BDS, such as author and peace activist Miko Peled who PSG invited to our campus last semester. All of us are united in simply opposing the ongoing human rights violations that are being committed against millions of Palestinian people, and for Palestinian students, this includes their families.
The fact that Palestinians cannot simply ask a campus to divest from companies which contribute to their suffering without facing institutional backlash, harassment, and misrepresentation, speaks volumes about the depth of their oppression.