Battle lines are being drawn at McMaster University over whether its student union should get involved in international political issues such as boycotting Israel.

In the lead up to last week’s contentious anti-Israel BDS (boycott, sick divestment and sanctions) vote at the General Assembly of the McMaster Students Union (MSU), pharm students and their representatives called on the union to do more to advocate for their needs and leave international politics to the experts.

“These are not the sorts of issues that I personally feel are the responsibility of student organizations,” Jeffrey Doucet, the MSU’s vice-president of finance, told the Jewish Tribune in a telephone interview. “At the end of the day, it’s our goal to draw all students on our university campuses into a true society and improve life for all students. I think that these are complex international issues that fall outside our scope. They tend to be divisive issues that alienate students on both sides and, ultimately, it’s not what I think a student union’s purpose is.”

Doucet told the Tribune he was not actively involved in the ‘Say no to BDS’ campaign and he had made a point of not speaking about his personal opinions on issues concerning Israel and Palestine. He attended the MSU’s General Assembly on March 26 and voted against the BDS motion.

The two-hour meeting was attended by more than 600 students, although pro-Israel students reportedly left en masse before the BDS vote. Most of the meeting was bogged down in a debate over the order of agenda items, leaving about 10 minutes for the BDS motion, which had been jostled to first place, Doucet explained. The motion was passed without a quorum, which means the vote is not binding on the MSU; however, the motion may be brought before the Student Representative Assembly, whose votes are binding.

The “very tense” meeting, in which “people felt uncomfortable,” was the culmination of a “very tense week or so” for people who were “affected by the debate,” said Doucet. “This is just the sort of atmosphere that, as a student organization, we should try to steer clear of.”

Raphael Szajnfarber, head of Jewish Student Life at McMaster University, told the Tribune in an email that the BDS resolution “makes a mockery of the processes and mandate of the MSU, which exists to unite all students and advocate for student causes rather than import divisive foreign conflicts onto campus.”

By The Jewish Tribune

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