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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Regina students back repeal of BDS support

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Nathan Sgrazzutti, president of URSU, left, and Sean Wilson, who put forward the motion

One year after passing a motion to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) repealed its support at a general meeting on April 10.

The motion, backed by representative Sean Wilson, who is not Jewish and describes himself as Christian, said the initial endorsement of the BDS movement “resulted in students feeling unrepresented, alienated and treated unequally.”

Although there was no official vote, Wilson said about 130 people in attendance were in favour of the motion to repeal URSU’s support, while around 70 were against it.

When the pro-BDS motion passed initially last year, roughly the same number of people supported it as voted to repeal it this year. But because the original vote came at the end of the meeting’s agenda, and most of the people in attendance had left, there was no one to argue against it, and it passed almost unanimously, Wilson said.

He said he was upset when the original motion passed and contacted the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, “and we started working together.” The vote is also what spurred him to become active in student politics, he added.

In order for a URSU general meeting to begin, there must be 150 members present, explained Mike Young, URSU’s vice-president of student affairs. However, the meeting can continue even if students leave, as long as there was quorum at the beginning.

The fact the original motion was repealed shows that students want their representatives to focus on student issues rather than get involved in international politics, Young said.

“There’s lots of issues that affect students, like tax rates, the conditions of the roads… but I wouldn’t call those student issues, because those are issues for everyone,” he said.

During the 14 months that the student union was officially in support of the BDS campaign, there wasn’t any noticeable change on campus, said Samantha Michaels, a Jewish master’s student at the university.

“I think it was more that a few radical students put a huge influence on this and made it their cause,” she said, adding that the vast majority of students at the university seem to have little interest in the Middle East.

“It’s out of mind here.”

She said she never worried about her safety on campus, but URSU president Nathan Sgrazzutti said he did hear concerns from Jewish and Israeli students.

“It almost marginalized a group of our students, because those students felt the motion was against them,” Sgrazzutti said.

“There were students who were worried this would escalate to hate crimes. They were worried this would be the first step down that path.”

A statement released by Students Against Israeli Apartheid after the BDS endorsement passed last year said the group would work with URSU to investigate its “portfolio for companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes.”

However, Sgrazzutti said URSU has no investments in any of the specified companies, so no changes were needed.

Members of SAIA Regina did not return The CJN’s request for comment.

Although there’s no official count of Jewish students on campus, Sgrazzutti said the number is irrelevant.

“If there’s even a single Jewish student on campus, we need to make sure they feel they are not separate from the rest of the group,” he said.

“I would strongly suggest to any other universities considering to adopt the motion to take a step back and think about who they’re hurting on campus.”

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