This year there will, in all likelihood, be a motion at a University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) general meeting (either the Annual General Meeting or a Special General Meeting) calling for the Union to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. This campaign is based around a 2005 call by 171 Palestinian Civil Society Organizations for the economic isolation of Israel until it ceases its occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, grants full equality to Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and respects the right of Palestinians to return to their occupied family homes.


Supporting BDS is a fairly straightforward moral position to get behind. The Israeli state is accused of being built upon apartheid. The UN has recognized apartheid as a crime since 1976, as has the International Criminal Court, which defines apartheid as a crime “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”


Examples of apartheid in Israel include: the Israeli state’s permit system, which severely limits Palestinian mobility, including between disconnected Palestinian territories; the non-recognition of numerous Palestinian villages in Israel, leaving those villages without access to public resources like water and electricity; the denial of voting rights to Palestinians in some local elections, and in all elections to Palestinians who are deemed “security threats”; the maintenance of separate and not necessarily equal schools for Jews and Arabs; and the sterilization of Ethiopian Jews. Of course, Israel’s oppression of Palestinians goes beyond what can simply be considered the crime of apartheid. This is evidenced by the state’s disproportionate military attacks on Palestinian villages, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in violation of articles 49 and 147 of the Geneva convention and its blockade of Gaza, which the UN has linked to Gaza’s rising infant mortality rate.


Based on this information, U of T has a clear line of action it should take. U of T’s statement of institutional purpose claims the school has “resolute commitments to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.” U of T also previously joined numerous academic institutions in boycotting Apartheid South Africa (though sadly it was one of the last to do so). Both U of T policy and precedent make it clear how it should act in response to apartheid, and by passing a BDS motion, students can make a powerful moral call for U of T to live up to its own ethical standards.


However, supporting BDS is not just about denouncing the Israeli state’s egregious human rights abuses—it is also a campaign against individual Israeli-associated companies. The U of T Graduates Students’ Union (GSU) has already passed a BDS motion, and the GSU’s ad-hoc BDS committee has already highlighted some of the Israeli-associated companies that U of T invests in. According to their research, your tuition dollars go to companies like Northrop Grumman, which makes apache helicopters and hellfire missiles, including those that were used in Israel’s 2008 assault on Gaza. Also supported are Hewlett Packard, which provides the Israeli army with naval IT and checkpoint technology, enabling the Gaza blockade and permit system, and Lockheed Martin, which produces combat ships, fighter jets and nuclear weapons (and once featured a lovely person by the name of Lynne Cheney on its board of directors).


Voting to support a boycott may not be what you expected to do when you decided to attend U of T, but such actions are in fact a perfectly logical and morally meaningful part of a post-secondary education. For the majority of undergrads, a university degree is not a path to one specific career, but rather a chance to learn what it means to be an adult citizen of our world. That’s a lesson we don’t just learn when we read literature, learn chemical formulas and figure out how to juggle studying for numerous courses, but also one we get while engaging with social movements on our campuses and in our communities.


So just as students of the ’60s and ’70s will remember the struggles for civil rights and against the Vietnam War as inseparable from their educational experiences, you will have a chance to give your education a small but powerful dose of moral meaning by engaging with the Palestinian liberation struggle. As well, you can focus on other struggles that are fought in and outside of the students’ union, such as the struggles of the Black Lives Matter and Drop Fees movements. Fighting for social justice as a student, however, is certainly not something you should do simply because of tradition—rather, it is a democratic duty.


One of the reasons we make demands of our governments is that they take our money in the form of taxes and then reinvest that money in various programs and causes. While U of T’s governing council is unfortunately not democratically accountable to faculty, staff and students, there is no reason that it shouldn’t be. That’s because as with governments, we give universities money to reinvest—it’s called tuition. That tuition can subsequently be invested in numerous objectionable companies, including those that are complicit in or abet Israel’s apartheid policies. Refusal to support BDS is thus not a neutral act, but a sign of complicity with U of T’s pro-Israel investment policies.


You may accomplish great things in your university career, like getting 4.0’s and winning awards, but such accomplishments don’t say anything about your standing as an ethical human. Good grades won’t shine a light on a human rights-abusing state that is often white-washed in the West, nor the murderous companies that help enforce apartheid. So why not join students from London to Boston, and trade unions from South Africa to Sweden, and take a stand on the right side of history?

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