1800 University of Waterloo students call to sever ties with Israeli universities

sever ties debate

Thousands of University of Waterloo students participated last week in the first-ever referendum on UW’s links to Israeli universities. The “sever ties” referendum campaign failed to gain a majority, but it provoked a lot of discussion including among students who had never heard about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Learn more…

A two-year campaign at the University of Waterloo leading up to a referendum has succeeded in raising the issue of the University of Waterloo’s links to Israeli universities involved in the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory and the oppression of the Palestinian people.

The petition called for Waterloo to cut its links to 5 specific Israeli universities including Technion University, in Haifa. Technion is Israel’s most prestigious technical and engineering university.

sever ties ballotThe organizing committee alleged that Technion (which plays a role in Israel somewhat similar to Waterloo’s leading role in Canada in high tech and engineering) is actively involved in designing equipment for the Israeli military.

The petition did not call to cut off links or to boycott individual students or professors from Israel – but it called on UW to break off official links to those universities involved in Israel’s occupation. It was spurred by UW signing a research agreement with Technion in 2014.

Approximately 20% of the undergraduate body participated in the voting. In the end, 1803 students voted to sever ties, while 2,329 voted against.

waterloo technion pres

“Shared values?” UW president Feridun Hamdullapour with Technion University president Paretz Lavie in 2014.

While the referendum failed to gain a majority, that was not the only objective according to Zainab Ramahi, one of the organizers. “We see this as the first step in a long term education project. We handed out thousands of pamphlets and had hundreds of discussions with students on campus, many of whom had never heard of the Israel/Palestine issue before. Now thousands of new people have had an introduction to the subject.”

The referendum was proposed by the Palestine Solidarity Action group formed on campus in 2014.  Under the rules established by the student union, a supervised referendum will be called if more than 10% of undergraduates sign a petition asking for it.

Student Union referendum rules call for the creation of “Yes” and “No” committees, each of which has a Facebook account.  A quick reading of both YES Facebook page sums up the mood of those want to promote a serious discussion of the Israel/Palestine issue.

“You guys raised an incredible amount of awareness on such an important issue that many people knew little about and that is what matters,” read one post on the YES FB page. “This wasn’t a loss because a powerful movement like this will motivate people to want to take matters into their own hands and try to make a positive change. (…) I could not feel more proud to be a part of a student body that cares, and that wants to work towards ending the suffering of people who have no voice. Thank you for bringing this conversation to Waterloo. You guys are amazing.”

The conversation, it seems, is just beginning.

 

8 comments

  1. You should be proud Zainab of this accomplishment to engage this big number of students in this educational debate. Congrats! You are a very effective public speaker. Next time on the CBC:)

  2. I would like to see a second attempt that took a more positive approach.

    The Universities in Palestine are trying very hard to educate Palestinian students but they face huge obstacles. In contrast to Israeli universities, their faculty and students have limited travel possibilities and get few visitors from abroad. Israel actively interferes with their efforts to recruit teachers and often raids their campuses doing damage to the facilities. Compared to Israeli Universities, Palestinian Universities are under-equipped and lack financial support. In spite of the problems, these Universities are filled with highly intelligent students and dedicated faculty members who would work very hard on any cooperative project with Canadian Institutions.

    Universities such as Waterloo could contribute immensely by establishing projects with those Universities. A referendum calling for a matching programme, each project with an Israeli University matched by a project with a Palestinian Institution, is more likely to succeed than a purely negative referendum. I think that those projects would do more good for Palestinian students than a ban on cooperation with Israeli institutions.

    1. A call for a boycott of Israeli institutions certainly does not preclude collaboration with Palestinian universities and this is something that many are beginning to explore- and rightly so! But importantly, the academic boycott of Israel aims to address systemic injustices by applying pressure on institutions and motivating Israeli faculty, for example, to demand change from their government. Creating relationships with Palestinians is not enough while institutions like the Technion continue to develop the military technology that sustains the occupation unabated.

  3. Unfortunately most people in Canada do not know the history or situation of the Palestinians because the MSM is so controlled and carries almost no news about what is really happening there; likewise many students at Waterloo.

  4. Israel wields great and unwarranted influence in universities and elsewhere. WE NEED TO EXERCISE FREEDOM OF SPEECH TO COUNTER THIS “UNDUE INFLUENCE”. THIS IS A RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL WHO CARE AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITY TO ACHIEVE A PEACEFUL WORLD, FIT FOR ALL EARTH’S CHILDREN.

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