In February 2011, a motion was brought to the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) intended to endorse the Students’ Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) Divestment Campaign. SAIA called on CUSA to urge Carleton University to divest its faculty pension plan of companies that do business with Israel.
Prior to voting on the motion, a student present proposed an amendment recommending divestment from any illegally occupying states, not just Israel. The amendment was only accepted after it was deemed to be inclusive of all possible occupations, present and future, not just Israel. Subsequently, SAIA’s motion was deemed redundant and was stricken from the agenda.
“That’s when SAIA exploded,” says Emile Scheffel, a Carleton student and member of the Ottawa Israel Awareness Committee. “The council took a five-minute recess, but people didn’t feel comfortable leaving the room.”
Protesters outside the council room began chanting and yelling after the decision, and some students say they felt trapped and threatened.
In a press release the following day, The Ottawa Israel Awareness Committee condemned the intimidation and bullying tactics used by members of SAIA at the CUSA meeting. According to IAC President and 4th year engineering student Mark Klibanov, “We commend CUSA for passing a resolution on ethical investments. This shows that they take real human rights abuses seriously, and have not bought into the obsession of some to demonize Israel.”
We want Canadian campuses to be peaceful,” said Aaron Vomberg, President of the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students. “We want any discussions to be open, inclusive and representative of the entire student body. The dangerous and toxic environment that we witnessed last night at Carleton is unbecoming of a Canadian university and is in complete contradiction of our core Canadian values.”
Student councilors deserve praise for taking a principled stand in an atmosphere of intimidation. By refusing to single out Israel, student leaders angered the BDS voices on campus. This is a prime example of the utility of student government as a framework to defeat and remove BDS proponents from power.