Letter: What is BDS, and why should you support it?

As UBC students go to classes this month, many are likely a little confused by the posters all over campus. The anti-BDS campaign is in full swing pending the upcoming referendum in the end of March and, for most, this is their first time hearing about the international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Movement. But what is BDS? And why has it come to UBC?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as many will know, has been ongoing for over 60 years. The continued establishment of illegal settlements and the repeated wars -- including last summer’s invasion that left 1,483 civilians dead -- is making the dream of two states, Palestine and Israel, more and more remote. The international community has failed to implement the Geneva Convention to end Israel’s occupation, resettlement and human rights abuses. It was upon realizing this fact in 2007 that Palestinians decided to take action. BDS was born with one simple request: stop letting your money fund these crimes! Specifically, BDS has three major goals:

Stop funding the illegal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land. In the words of the Canadian government, “settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention [constituting] a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

Stop funding abuse of human rights in Palestine. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, refugees’ rights are guaranteed including the right to return to their homes.

Stop funding the construction of a concrete wall around Palestine. As the Canadian government says, “this construction is contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Canada not only opposes Israel's construction of a barrier extending into the occupied territories, but also expropriations and the demolition of houses and economic infrastructure.”

BDS is modelled closely on the international movement that forced South Africa to end its apartheid policies. It calls for people to boycott, divest or sanction any company or institution that profits or contributes to these violations of international law. This grassroots citizen’s movement aims to end funding of Israel’s illegal activity in Palestine and has garnered significant support from national trade unions around the world including in the UK, Ireland and Sweden; religious organizations like the United Methodist Church; and universities across Europe and North America. Ben Gurion University’s Professor Neve Gordon said that there is no hope that the Israeli government will act without significant pressure from people around the world. BDS is the world’s concerted answer. The international community has a legal obligation to abstain from lending financial support and global citizens have a moral obligation to ensure that their money is not used in illegal activity. The University of British Columbia is no different, and students have the right to ensure that their money is not used to fund Israel’s current policies.

Despite this, the UBC AMS has decided to take the unusual stance of supporting an “anything but yes” vote, which is basically supporting a ‘no’ vote. The AMS chose to oppose the call to committing to end using tuition dollars to fund violations of international law, and that is before students even had the chance to cast their votes.

UBC students are part of the upper echelons of Canadian academia, so standing for justice and challenging illegal policies is not a surprising move. UBC students will be asked to decide for themselves on this question of morality in a referendum from March 23 – 27. In the words of Rabbi David Mivasair of the Independent Jewish Voices of Vancouver, students should vote ‘yes’ as BDS is “the most powerful thing we in Canada can do to help those in both Palestine and Israel” who are suffering under the current policies.