If CFS tackles issues outside of its scope, it’ll only mean less influence and less action on student-relevant issues
The Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) passed a motion to boycott the actions of Israel in Gaza during its annual general meeting in August.
At first glance, it might make sense. The violence in that part of the world is a horrific thing to simply stand by and watch, and far worse to experience. Making it worse, still, is how one-sided the conflict is. Gaza’s offense is no match for Israel’s defense, and when Israel goes on the offensive, it’s clear how brutal a conflict this can be. The loss of life is senseless to some and life-defining for others.
It’s one of the most divisive conflicts around. Israel receives government support from the west, but that doesn’t mean the citizens of the west follow. This is evident by mid-summer protests that turned violent as groups were matched against each other on Canadian streets.
So why then, should an organization meant to organize and unite students, delve into such a divisive issue? Simply put, it shouldn’t.
CFS Ontario made a mistake when boycotting Israel. It’s not that CFS picked the wrong side. It’s not that it made a careful pick based on politics. It’s the fact that it made a pick at all.
CFS, the Canadian-wide organization, hasn’t weighed in on the issue – probably because it has the good sense to know it should stay out of these sorts of issues and keep student issues on the frontlines. Tuition, debt, Aboriginal education, international students, sexual assault, etc. – these are the issues they should be focusing on. No student will disagree that these are the issues that might impact their day to day lives.
In 2013, CFS Ontario took in more than 2,000,000 from its 350,000 members, according to its 2013 Annual Report. I’m guessing it didn’t bother asking its members how they felt about the issue before deciding for them.
Thankfully, actual campaigns based on the AGM resolution will be left up to individual CFS Ontario unions. One member, albeit one with “somewhat disconnected” ties to the organization, has made the right decision to leave the issue alone.
As reported by the Charlatan, Carleton University’s independent weekly, Carleton University Student Union vice-president Maddy Porter said that “it is not within CUSA’s mandate nor is it appropriate to so heavily weigh into complicated matters of foreign policy. We are here to positively serve the Carleton campus.”
Let’s hope others have this much sense on the matter.
If student unions begin taking on campaigns that don’t directly affect their members, their campus, or their local community, their influence will be even weaker than it already is.
Uniting students against issues that directly affect them is the only power the CFS has. If it fractures its member base by tackling divisive issues on which it has no real influence, division will be the only result and weakness the only effect.