SFU’s Teaching Support Staff Union voted 186 for and 227 against including a BDS campaign in the union’s bylaws and policies. (photo from RestfulC401 (WinterforceMedia) via commons.wikimedia.org)
The Vancouver Jewish community had another victory over the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement last week, this time at Simon Fraser University.
The university’s Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU), a union for teaching assistants, seasonal instructors and non-full-time staff, held a referendum May 15-19 on whether to include a BDS campaign against Israel in its bylaws and policies. The motion was defeated, with 186 TSSU members voting for BDS and 227 voting against it.
When Rabbi Philip Bregman, executive director of Hillel BC, first heard about the referendum, he and his team at Hillel BC were in the midst of fighting BDS at the University of British Columbia. “It was like whack-a-mole,” he said. “We were fighting two battles at the same time and, when we weren’t dealing with UBC, we were dealing with SFU!”
Bregman estimates TSSU has around 600 members and a key part of Hillel BC’s strategy was reaching those members. That was a challenge, given the fact that TSSU would not give Hillel BC access to its membership list. Instead, Hillel BC had to research each SFU faculty individually to find out who its teaching assistants were, and then communicated with them via email. “It was like we were fighting ghosts – we had to try figure out who the part- time professors and TAs were in order to reach their members,” he said.
Bregman and his team also sent a letter to SFU faculty members, explaining how dangerous it was for an academic institute to be boycotting other academic institutions. “We were trying to show members of the TSSU that this was not a smart thing for them to do,” he said.
The week of the referendum, Bregman and his team were on the SFU campus with a sign requesting that TSSU members approach them and have a conversation – and many of them did. TSSU tried to counter Hillel BC’s arguments, but their counter-arguments were weak, Bregman said.
Still, Bregman was certain the BDS campaign would be voted into policy. “The TSSU held all the cards. They wouldn’t let us know who their membership was and most of the information they sent out was pro-BDS,” he said.
On its website, however, amid the wording of the resolution and other background information, TSSU included four documents that laid out reasons why members should vote no to the BDS motion.
While the administration at SFU did not issue any statements about its position on the BDS referendum, it did reach out to Bregman. “They called me to ask what was happening on their campus,” he said. “I told the university administration that SFU would get a black eye if this thing passes. It really would have been catastrophic for the university.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.