Case Study: University of Windsor

The University of Windsor made headlines in the Spring of 2014 for being the first Canadian university that year to vote for divestment from Israel. The local Palestine Solidarity Group put forward a campus-wide referendum asking Windsor students whether to support BDS as a whole, bragging that they had found success because they bypassed the student council. The resolution passed with 798 students in favor and 585 students against. However there are more than 14,000 students at the University of Windsor, which means that only around 5% of the total student body supported the resolution. Even so, it quickly made international headlines.

It appeared that intimidation had been a factor in the pro-boycott vote. A student executive’s office had been broken into and his property was vandalized with an anti-Israel message. There were also allegations that anti-boycott posters were immediately torn down. Windsor’s administration immediately condemned the intimidation and crime that had taken place there, but were slower to attack the BDS resolution itself, preferring instead to call it “controversial” and insisting on an investigation of exactly what was said.

“A lot of students have expressed their concern. They don’t want to be caught in a situation where they feel that they are, somehow as a result of UWSA, no longer welcome on campus…It’s not only Jewish students. Many students have expressed concerns about what is happening on campus…” –University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman

Many University of Windsor students told the Windsor Star that BDS has “created a great deal of hostility on our campus,” “you can cut the tension around here with a knife,” and that “it’s a tremendously toxic climate, and it’s a climate where I [a Jewish student] feel I’m targeted.” University of Windsor Students Alliance President Rob Crawford said that, “It has created a great deal of hostility on our campus.”

There was immediate and strong backlash to the resolution outside of the university. A prominent engineering firm announced its intentions to cut ties with the University of Windsor if the boycott was allowed to stand. MP Jeff Watson called it “misguided” and “hateful.” The Windsor Daily Star published an op-ed indicating that were not fooled by claims that the resolution was guided by devotion to human rights. The boycott even became the subject of discussion in Canada’s parliament, where it was called an “anti-Jewish resolution.” Canada’s Minister of Multi-Culturalism Tim Uppal called it “a travesty,” “a new form of anti-Semitism” and “despicable.” In the wake of all the controversy, University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman asked the UWSA to refrain from approving the resolution until all the complaints had been handled.

Weeks later, it was discovered that the Palestine Solidarity Group had in fact broken the rules of the Student Alliance when they brought their referendum before the student body. Their petition to bring the issue to a vote only had 404 signatures instead of the minimum 500. Other charges included:

  • Changes have been made to the structure of the UWSA executive group in ways that are in violation of the bylaws and the constitution of the UWSA, and those changes resulted in participation in UWSA meetings and votes by individuals who were not entitled to participate in those meetings and votes.
  • Over the past year the UWSA Executive and council have contained members who do not meet the criteria of membership set out in the UWSA constitution.
  • The motion to hold a BDS referendum occurred without legitimate quorum and involved votes cast by non-members.
  • The BDS referendum was unclear and ambiguous, and contained several questions rather than one question as required, and therefore was not consistent with Bylaw 85.

The resolution is currently under investigation by the University of Windsor. The lesson here is that BDS proponents will try to bend the rules as well as use intimidation to pursue their goals, but if its opponents hold fast the misbehavior of pro-boycott activists can be exposed and overturned.

Video detailing the illegal behavior of the UWSA in the run-up to the vote: