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Josh Morry at University of Oxford's Trinity College.He will graduate with a Masters of Law Degree this year

Josh Morry on U of W Student Association's Pro-BDS motion: Defamatory and Inflammatory-Both Jews and Arabs have historic connections to land UN voted to partition in 1947

by Josh Morry, May 1, 2017

At its annual general meeting (AGM) in March, the University of Winnipeg Students Association (UWSA) was presented with a motion that condemned the State of Israel as an apartheid regime. The motion called on the UWSA to explore ways to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and implicitly denied any historical connection of the Jewish people to Israel, arguing that Israel is engaging in a process of “colonization” that exploits the Palestinians, who are (the motion said) the indigenous people in Palestine. While the motion did not pass (the meeting failed to reach quorum), it demonstrates yet again that Winnipeg is not sheltered from the anti-Israel movement that undermines Jewish students and supporters of Israel on university campuses across North America and Europe.


This motion, like so many BDS motions, is defamatory on its face. Both Jews and Arabs have historic connections to the land that the United Nations voted to partition in 1947. To argue otherwise is inflammatory. The Jewish and Palestinian peoples have suffered, and continue to suffer from a conflict that has shown no signs of resolution. I, like many others around the world, hope that one day the conflict will end in the form of a sovereign Palestinian state existing in peace beside a sovereign Jewish state.


Rather than demonizing one side of the conflict, it would be more productive for students at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) to engage in a dialogue where the opinions of all students are respected, and everyone feels comfortable engaging with difficult issues. The Arab-Israeli conflict will not be resolved by the UWSA at its AGM, but my experience with the anti-Israel movement at the University of Manitoba (U of M) shows that their objective is not resolution; it is delegitimization of the State of Israel, and demonization of Jewish students. 

Because the UWSA motion will be tabled at the fall AGM, now is a good time to look back at the U of M’s historic decision in 2013 to stand up for Jewish students and ban Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) and Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) from operating on campus. The U of M used to suffer from the problems currently plaguing the U of W. SAIA, a registered student group, was part of an international movement that organized and ran IAW and promoted BDS motions. SAIA would spout the same vitriol as the UWSA motion, delegitimizing Israel and calling Jewish students on campus racists and apartheid supporters. In fact, the UWSA motion is much more explicit than SAIA ever was at the U of M, arguing that nearly everybody involved in Israeli society is “complicit” in the goals of colonialism and should be denounced accordingly.


Left unchecked, student groups and the movements they represent metastasize. When students at Concordia in Montreal were called on to oppose Israeli colonialism and its supporters, they threw pennies at Jewish students. Students at York University were chased by an anti-Israel mob into their Hillel room.  At the University of Manitoba, caricatures of Jews with swastikas on their foreheads were placed in the hallways during IAW. How does this advance peace and understanding, let alone reconciliation?


Fortunately, universities and students’ unions across North America have policies that are designed to protect vulnerable students. University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) Policy 2009 banned any activity that was likely to undermine the dignity of students. UWSA Policy 4.4 is similar in this regard. These policies have been tested in the courts and found constitutional because they recognize that in universities, as in workplaces, individuals have no choice but to work or learn in close quarters.


In 2013, as a councillor on UMSU, I, along with my co-councillor Maria Gluskin proposed a motion to UMSU council that the activities of SAIA contravened UMSU Policy 2009. We made the argument that Policy 2009 has been invoked by the LGBTTQ community, aboriginal students, female students, and other students who have felt marginalized on campus. If UMSU chose to selectively apply its rules to every marginalized group but Jewish students, it would lose its moral authority to apply its rules at all.


Rather than arguing about the Arab-Israeli conflict which cannot be resolved at a university AGM, UMSU Council instead considered how a group of students was being undermined by an international movement that was designed to do just that. In the end, this was not a debate about Israel, but whether a student union can remain on the sidelines as a historically victimized group asked for protection. In the end, UMSU made the right decision, and became the first student union in the world to ban SAIA and IAW. The historic motion was recognized in the Canadian Parliament and by the World Jewish Congress.


Following the motion, I invited members of SAIA to join with me in forming an Arab Jewish dialogue group at the U of M. Arab-Canadian student leaders on campus responded with open arms and the Arab Jewish Dialogue on Campus was certified as a student group by UMSU.  SAIA leaders on the other hand responded by telling me that dialogue is just a tool of the Zionists to distract from their apartheid regime. They then proceeded to make antisemitic slurs on the UMSU Facebook page.


The anti-Israel movement is not interested in constructive dialogue, or in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Students at the U of W who are genuinely interested in an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict are encouraged to begin a real dialogue based on respect and reconciliation.


Joshua Morry is graduating from the University of Oxford’s Trinity College with a masters of law degree (BCL) this year. He was the 2016 Gold Medallist at Robson Hall Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba
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