BDS: The CSU Has Divested

A Look At What Has Has Been Done Two Years Since the CSU Voted in Favour of Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions Against Israel

  • The CSU has divested $5.3 million, in accordance with their revised purchasing policies. Graphic Nikolas Litzenberger, Morag Rahn-Campbell, Kelsey Litwin, Chris Forsyth

In the fall of 2014, the Concordia Student Union endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel after undergraduate students passed a referendum.

This article has been updated.

Two years later, the CSU has followed through on its promise to divest from companies that are associated with Israel. On the eve of the second annual BDS week at Concordia, the CSU has confirmed to The Link that they have divested a total $5.3 million, in accordance with all of their student-supported positions.

The divestments “are consistent with the CSU’s Positions Book, which includes [BDS], but is also reflective on our positions against natural resource extractive industries,” according to Adrian Longinotti, the student union’s Finance Coordinator.

BDS is a movement in support of the Palestinian people and against the human rights violations conducted by the state of Israel. It calls for boycotting Israel, and all companies involved in its violations, divesting from them and sanctioning the nation to hold them accountable. Sanctions, as the movement describes, includes “putting pressure on governments […] by ending military trade, free-trade agreements, and expelling Israel from international forums.”

BDS is about critically looking at the relationship that Concordia has with Israel, according to Rami Yahia, the CSU’s Internal Affairs Coordinator. He is the former General Coordinator of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Concordia.

“Normalizing ties would be accepting the status quo,” Yahia said. “This is about stopping the violence in Palestine.”

Pro-Israel groups criticized the 2014 referendum for not being representative of the undergraduate student body—of the 2,500 students who voted, 1,276 voted in favour of BDS.

Yahia emphasized the fact that the vote reached more than five times the quorum. “View this as an achievement,” he said.

Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, this year’s CSU general coordinator, explained that their duty as a student union is to follow through on positions put forward and supported by the student body.

“Regardless, the CSU is beholden to the mandates given to us by undergraduate students and not the Concordia administration,” she said.

The $5.3 million had been transferred from existing GICs—Guaranteed Investment Certificates—into sustainable investments, Longinotti said.

GICs are the “cheapest possible investment,” according to Stylianos Perrakis, a finance professor at the John Molson School of Business. Consequently, GICs are also the investments with some of the lowest returns, he said.

Despite low returns, GICs are known as some of the safest investments, and the CSU has invested in cashable-GICs so that they can access the fund at any time, Longinotti said.

“What I see as a benefit to cashable GICs is that if the money is needed from these accounts, we’re not locked into a longer term [investment],” he added.

“Because we’re a university-based union we can’t actively ‘sanction’ but the referendum-based position allows us to support diplomatic or economic actions which do, should those occasions arise.” —Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, CSU General Coordinator

He offered the example of renovation projects as motivation for investing in cashable GICs, such as Reggie’s and the Hive Café. If there is an initiative the CSU knows will require a larger sum of money, a cashable GIC will ensure they would have access to the necessary funds, Longinotti said, which also means it can be moved around without much repercussion.

In the process of divesting, the CSU changed its purchasing policies, meaning it stopped purchasing products from specific companies. Specifically, Longinotti cited Home Depot and Canadian Tire as two companies the CSU stopped purchasing from.

Home Depot’s co-founder and ex-chairman, Bernard Marcus, is a supporter of EMET: An Educational Initiative, Inc.—a think tank that disseminates pro-Israel information on college campuses.

To decide which companies to divest from, candidates are put through a positive and negative screening process.

“The negative screenings would be to eliminate the funds that have companies, or eliminate the companies themselves,” Longinotti said. Home Depot and Canadian Tire, for example, came up negative during this process.

“The final decision is always passed through the board,” he said, “because that reflects our transparency and that we respect also not only the opinions of the executive team, but the opinions representatives of all the student body.”

When it comes to the other factors of BDS, Marshall-Kiparissis wrote in an email that, “the only real way we can actively implement the ‘boycott’ aspect of the position we have been given is through our ethical purchasing policy.”

This is, on a smaller scale, similar to the way the CSU dictates their investments. They verify all purchases are made in line with their Positions Book, which is dictated both by Council and the union’s entire membership through referendum questions.

Sanctions, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily within the reach of the student union.

“Because we’re a university-based union we can’t actively ‘sanction,’” wrote Marshall-Kiparissis. “But the referendum-based position allows us to support diplomatic or economic actions which do, should those occasions arise.”

The $5.3 million in divestment makes up a large part of the CSU’s portfolio that was presented at the last CSU Annual General Meeting for the 2015-2016 year. Longinotti estimates this portfolio lands at somewhere around $6 million—but reaching no more than $7 million—for 2016. If these numbers are accurate, the divestment accounts for 75 to 88 per cent of their portfolio.

This amount, he said, excludes the Student Space, Accessible Education and Legal Contingency fund, which collects $1 per credit from all undergraduate students. Although Longinotti explained that while the CSU wants to be very transparent, the audit is currently not viewable for Concordia students on their website.

“[The CSU] website needs to be updated,” Longinotti said. “Right now I’m working with the team to update these documents because they should be updated constantly.”

The latest CSU financial documents that can be found on csu.qc.ca are from the 2013-2014 school year—for which the cash flow audited ended on May 31, 2014. It was posted online 338 days later on May 4, 2015.

Longinotti acknowledged that the website not being up to date is a real issue he is trying to correct.

Editor’s note: A line was removed from the paragraph discussing Bernard Marcus and his relationship with EMET: An Educational Initiative, Inc. The line in-question was added during our editing process without the consent from the authors of this piece. The original, unaltered version can be found in our archives. If you have any questions, please contact editor@thelinknewspaper.ca.

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