University of British Columbia students are about to weigh in on a question more than a few will regard as controversial.
From March 23 to 27, the Alma Mater Society of UBC (AMS) will hold a referendum on a boycott and divestment motion targeting Israel.
The ballot question reads in full: “Do you support your student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians?”
That language takes cues from an international campaign known as the BDS Movement, which stands for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.
The matter is up for a vote as a result of a petition that requested it be placed on an upcoming ballot. In accordance with AMS bylaws, a petition goes to a general vote if it receives the signatures of 1,000 active members. The petition on the question of divestment from Israel was presented to AMS on March 4 and was found to have met that threshold.
On March 16, the AMS made public its official position on the matter, describing it as “any vote but yes”.
“As outlined in the AMS Constitution, one of the primary objectives of the society is to promote unity and goodwill amongst our members,” an explanation reads. “Our view is that the passing of this referendum will go against this objective. As a result, AMS Council has endorsed an 'any vote but yes' vote. This decision was made on the basis that a yes vote would isolate certain members of the AMS and go against the ideals of inclusivity and the promotion of a safe and discrimination-free community for our members.”
On March 15, students at McGill University voted on a similar question phrased “divestment from companies profiting from the illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territories”. That motion failed to pass by just 64 votes.
Two days earlier, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau weighed in on the McGill students’ referendum. “The BDS [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses,” he wrote on Twitter. “As a @McGillU alum, I’m disappointed. #EnoughIsEnough.”
Trudeau’s inclusion of the hashtag #EnoughIsEnough was a nod to an op-ed written by a number of McGill students that ran in the Montreal Gazette one day earlier.
The vote at UBC will occur via booths set up around campus beginning Monday, March 23.