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Sophie Hershfield

Men's Washroom at U of W

Stairwell in Manitoba Hall

Sophie Hershfield Reports on How University of Winnipeg Students Association May Pass a BDS Motion This Coming Fall - see photos of antisemitic graffiti

by Sophie Hershfield March 30, 2017

Yesterday, at the UWSA’s annual general meeting, there was an attempt to pass a motion condemning Israel as an apartheid state and to support the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement. Thankfully, quorum was lost before this motion was voted on. However, the support shown for this motion is incredibly concerning. Calling Israel an “apartheid state” is a gross mischaracterization and simplification of an incredibly complex issue. While I will not pretend that the Israeli government is completely free of fault, this issue can only be understood through free, fair, and open discussion from both sides.


The biggest problem I have with the UWSA trying to pass this motion is that it would put Jewish students at risk, all in the name of advancing a political agenda held by a small minority of students. Antisemitic graffiti has already been popping up at the University of Winnipeg (see photos). But the BDS movement has unfortunately gone hand in hand with antisemitism on many campuses across Canada. There is the recent example of McGill, when a member of the student union executive was forced to step down for tweeting “punch a zionist today.” If we look locally to the University of Manitoba, a few years ago UMSU voted to ban Israel Apartheid Week from campus because it was putting Jewish students at risk. The primary role, before politics and activism, of the UWSA is having a safe learning environment for all students. For the UWSA to make a decision to advance a political agenda held only by a minority of the student body, and use student funds to support a movement that would actively put Jewish students at risk, would be undemocratic and destructive.


When I spoke to non-Jewish students about this issue, many of them said that they didn’t know enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to make a judgement call. When, at the meeting, I suggested setting up an open dialogue about the conflict instead of passing this motion to support BDS, I was denied, saying I would give a legitimate voice to colonialism. Clearly many of the supporters of this motion do not wish to further anyone’s understanding of the issue, and instead wish to make a one-sided judgement call on behalf of ten thousand students on a nuanced political issue that could endanger a portion of the student population. The majority of students in attendance were far more concerned with the larger idea of colonialism than the safety of people who pay tuition to have a safe learning environment. 


I am not here to silence voices of opposition against Israel, however, I am here to say that it is not the place of the UWSA, a body that, according to its own vision statement, is meant to create an “accessible, inclusive, democratic post-secondary education system,” to use student fees to silence pro-Israel voices and put students in danger. I, like the “democratic” vision the UWSA supposedly possesses, wish to promote an open dialogue with both criticism and support of the state of Israel. I will not stand idly by and allow the UWSA to adopt a policy that would endanger students and promote a narrative not held by every member of the student body. 

This motion has been tabled until the fall AGM, if you are a student at the University of Winnipeg I urge you to come in the fall and oppose this motion.



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