We need to talk about BDS: a yes-no referendum is not the right way to do it.

On Monday, March 23 2015, voting for the BDS referendum will be open to all UBC students. Let me open by saying that I’m not here to convince you to vote yes or no to the referendum. The Israel -- Palestine conflict is a very convoluted and complex issue and it is not my intention nor in my expertise to talk about it. What I’m going to comment on is the kind of atmosphere this referendum has created on campus.

The AMS Constitution Section 2e states that one of the AMS’s missions is to promote unity and goodwill amongst its members. Unfortunately, in a university of more than 45,000 students, disagreements are bound to happen. Throughout my career at UBC, I have encountered many of those disagreements both personally and professionally. The AMS has always acted as a mediator, providing services such as the ombudsperson’s office to resolve these conflicts. That’s how conflicts are solved, through mediators and conversations -- not through asking students to take a stance on an issue many don’t feel comfortable taking a stance on.

Regardless of what one thinks about this referendum, it is undeniable that this has created one of the largest instances of tension ever seen between various different student groups at UBC. There are moments when I truly felt uncomfortable being in the middle of a BDS discussion; I can’t bring myself to fathom how uncomfortable it must have been for individuals on both sides of the discussion at that moment. This referendum does not offer a win-win situation from the way the “yes” and the “no” campaign is being run. Regardless of the outcome, it will leave one or more student groups unhappy, angry and even feeling unsafe.

I am not trying to convince you on how you should vote in this referendum. I am asking all those who have been fighting passionately for either side of this referendum to be respectful. It is so easy to blame the other party when a discussion goes awry and believe that you know all the facts when the others don’t. It is much harder to come back to those discussions, admitting that both of you are imperfect and that talking to each other is better than not talking at all. It’s something that I’m still continuously learning but it is something that works. If it fails the first time, try again. Try until it works.

Do I appreciate the passion that so many have put in to a cause that they care so much about? Absolutely. Do I think that this passion has been used in the right manner on both sides? Not yet.

We all have the same university to call our Alma Mater. Let’s make sure that we facilitate productive discussions and goodwill amongst its members.