McGill University is one of many Canadian university campuses where debate took place last month over the Israel/Palestine conflict. Organizations defending Palestinian human rights are more active than ever across the country. So, also are various pro-Israeli organizations. The debate is intense. Read more.
With this article, we introduce “Campus Roundup” which we hope will become a monthly feature. This month’s roundup was prepared by Zainab Ramahi.
Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) 2016 events took place on more than 11 Canadian campuses over the last month. Israeli Apartheid Week was first launched in Toronto in 2005 with the aim of educating people “about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system” and to build the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. University campuses continue to be a focal point of BDS activity, and IAW events involve lectures, film screenings, and creative actions.
IAW Canada kicked off on February 22nd at Dalhousie University, with events across Canada through March 24th at the University of British Columbia, the University of Western Ontario, McMaster University, the University of Toronto – Scarborough, Laurentian University, the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, University of Windsor, and in Edmonton.
This year’s theme “Our Struggles Unite” brought together spoken word poet and filmmaker Amanda Lickers with poet and organizer Remi Kanazi in Toronto to discuss movement intersections across Palestinian, Indigenous, and Black Struggles. In Sudbury and Edmonton, film screenings included Pressure Points: Israel, Berkeley, and the Divestment Resolution, Checkpoint, and The Wanted 18. At Queens University, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organized a simulation of an Israeli checkpoint. A pro Israel group called Israel on Campus distributed a leaflet justifying the use of checkpoints and the construction of the separation wall.
2016 IAW events took place in the context of Canadian parliamentary condemnation of BDS activity, in a motion passed on February 22. On the very same day, a Students’ Society of McGill University motion in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel passed 512-387. However, the online ratification process that followed failed to ratify the vote, much to the satisfaction of the pro-Israel lobby, including B’nai Brith Canada and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs described the outcome as “the victory of reason over hate.”
McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier weighed in with an official response on behalf of the university administration, decrying the vote, saying, “The BDS movement… flies in the face of the tolerance and respect we cherish as fundamental values to a university.”
Professors at McGill University later issued a strong response to Fortier’s statement,
“For Principal Fortier to denounce a movement defending the rights of Palestinians against those who are oppressing them is in fact what ‘flies in the face of tolerance and respect’ […] As McGill professors, we also declare now and will continue to state that if this is the McGill Administration’s response to the BDS movement, it also does not act in our name.”
Signatories reflect engagement from various university departments including History, Classical Studies, Anthropology, Urban Planning, Counselling Psychology, Epidemiology, and Linguistics.
The McGill vote came on the heels of a similar vote at the University of Waterloo. Having gathered the signatures of over 10% of the undergraduate student population necessary to trigger a vote calling on the University to break ties with Israeli institutions, on January 28, students narrowly voted 1,803-2,329 to reject the motion.
Support for Palestinian human rights seems to be moving from student bodies into the ranks of the academic staff. Faculty bodies at other universities have articulated their support for divestment efforts on campus, including a recent announcement from over 125 faculty members at the University of Toronto as well as the York University Faculty Association stewards’ council, which voted 23 to 10 to join the YUDivest Campaign.
Zainab Ramahi, March 28, 2016
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