At last night’s AMS Council meeting, councillors debated over a referendum question that will likely be put forward at this year’s AMS elections: “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?”
After a lengthy discussion, a motion to mandate the HR Committee to create a Student Court for the purpose of reviewing the referendum question failed. The vote was 11 for, 11 against and 11 abstentions. Earlier in the night, AMS Ombudsperson Matt Perzow gave a presentation based on an investigation that he conducted on the question, instigated by a complaint from a student.
Perzow determined that the question — which uses the same wording as it did in the 2015 referendum — met the AMS Bylaw 4 requirement of being answerable with a “yes” or “no” vote, but did not meet the same bylaw’s further guideline of being “clear and unambiguous.”
“Students should know what they’re voting for, as well as the consequences of that vote,” said Perzow in Council.
According to his report, the current phrasing of the question also directly violates AMS code (Section IX A, Article 4), which says that referendum questions referring to contracts must outline the intent to break such a contract as well as the associated “penalty.” In this case, that would mean defining the companies that the AMS would need to divest from should the referendum be approved as well as the financial ramifications of doing so.
According to Perzow’s report, the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights club (SPHR), the body that brought forward the question, clarified that they do not want to make it immediately incumbent upon the AMS to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) from Israel. This is unclear from the current phrasing of the question according to Perzow’s analysis.
At the end of his presentation, Perzow recommended that the AMS Council direct the HR Committee to fill a Student Court to advise on the question and then provide a written response informing students of the reasoning behind the decision. Council then debated this with councillors, some of whom cited financial and timeliness concerns as well as doubt about the ethics and legitimacy of convening a court for one issue.
However, according to AMS Bylaw 21, the mandate of Student Court includes the rephrasing of unclear referendum questions.
With last night’s vote, Council decided not to proceed with creating a Student Court. This decision stands in contrast to AMS code (Section XV, Article 1), which states that “the Student Court shall be a standing body which serves throughout the entire year” — something that has not been the case since 2010.
It is currently unclear whether Council will return to the issues with the BDS question should it be formally posed as a referendum — SPHR will first need to present a form with 1,000 valid student signatures to get the question to go forward.