Letter: An anti-Zionist Jewish perspective on the AMS divestment motion

In March, the AMS passed a motion directing UBC and the Board of Governors to divest from nine companies complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights. UBC-invested companies, including Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar, contribute to illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, construct weapons of war and commit other crimes.

With 7 abstentions, the motion passed 20 to 2. In addition, the motion called for the AMS to release a statement condemning the Israeli state's system of apartheid and occupation of Palestine.

As councillors submitted their final votes on the motion, I sat silent, my hands joined with fellow organizers and friends. Four hours of debate had left us exhausted, but the room was electric — as the news of our majority victory rippled through the crowd of students in attendance, all was elation and celebration. That evening, students, organizers and AMS councillors united in a vision for a better UBC — one willing to take a stand against oppression, occupation and apartheid. 

I joined the Divestment Coalition as a representative of the Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Vancouver Youth Bloc. Working alongside more than 20 organizations and student groups, I had the opportunity to share my perspective as a member of the anti-Zionist Jewish community and speak to the multiplicity of Jewish voices that oppose the Israeli state’s system of apartheid and occupation of Palestine. 

My role is important because much of the opposition to the divestment motion was grounded in the claim that the asks being made by the Coalition of the AMS and Board of Governors were antisemitic. 

Holding the State of Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinians is a far cry from antisemitism. It is a foundational step for UBC and the AMS to demonstrate its commitment to and support for Palestinian students, anti-racism on campus and global human rights. There is no singular Jewish voice — claims of antisemitism cannot be used to justify or disguise the crimes of the Israeli state or silence the lived experiences of Palestinians at UBC or globally.

Supporting divestment means naming and condemning the crimes of the Israeli state, not casting judgment on Israeli and Jewish people. 

In passing the divestment motion, the UBC AMS joins a growing list of universities across Canada taking similar stances in opposition to Israeli apartheid and occupation. Unfortunately, it has also become one of many student associations to face resistance from university administrations. 

In April, President and Vice-Chancellor Santa Ono released a statement declaring that UBC will not support the AMS divestment motion on the grounds that it did not emerge from “constructive and respectful debate” and is not representative of “academic freedom and freedom of expression.” Much is problematic about this statement, but of paramount concern is President Ono’s use of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion rhetoric to reinforce systemic racism at UBC and homogenize Jewish voices on campus. 

UBC does not exist in a political vacuum, but President Ono’s statement suggests that it is possible to leave power dynamics at the door when fighting for Palestinian human rights. This is a misguided message. It is unfair to expect Palestinian students at UBC to continually outline and explain the Israeli state’s system of apartheid to those who deny the existence of it. President Ono’s decision to maintain the status quo in the name of academic freedom is just as political a statement as divestment. 

By not supporting student-led divestment motions, UBC denies the lived experiences of Palestinians and continues to make campus a hostile place for Palestinian students. 

Moreover, at no point during the divestment motion’s conception or progression through student government were Israeli or Jewish students attacked for their identities. Emphasis was consistently placed on the companies from which UBC was to divest and the Israeli state’s internationally recognized criminal activity. President Ono is claiming otherwise, conflating Jewishness with Israel and, by extension, suggesting that all Jewish students support and condone the violence, oppression and apartheid enacted by Israel.

This, evidently, is untrue and suggesting as much enforces a narrative that Jewish people are of a singular mind — an antisemitic sentiment itself. 

In a few weeks’ time, I, alongside a delegation of anti-Zionist Jewish UBC students and community members through IJV, will meet with President Ono and Associate Vice President, Equity and Inclusion, Arig al Shaibah to discuss our concerns and ways forward.

It is my sincere hope that we will be able to address the harms perpetuated through UBC’s reaction to the divestment motion and reiterate that Jewish voices are diverse and cannot be treated as a monolith. 

The fight for divestment at UBC is far from over, but I am motivated by the knowledge that the weight of student opinion is firmly behind justice.

Daniel Sax is a PhD student studying at the intersection of urban forestry and environmental justice at UBC. He is a fourth-generation settler of Eastern European, Ashkenazi heritage and a member of the IJV Vancouver Youth bloc. 

IJV Canada is a grassroots organization that amplifies the voices of Canadian Jews in support of justice in Israel-Palestine. As a representative of the Vancouver Youth Bloc, Daniel pursues this mission through the facilitation of youth-centred community building, education and political organizing on UBC’s campus and throughout Vancouver.

This is an opinion letter. It does not reflect the opinions of The Ubyssey as a whole. You can submit an opinion at ubyssey.ca/pages/submit-an-opinion.