Event on the aca­demic boy­cott of Is­rael

Shed­ding light on a rarely-dis­cussed part of the BDS move­ment

The McGill Daily - - News - Tala Ab­dul­lah News Writer The Mcgill BDS Ac­tion net­work may be reached at mcgillbds@riseup.net.

On Tues­day, March 14, a group of around twenty stu­dents and com­mu­nity mem­bers at­tended a panel ar­gu­ing in favour of an aca­demic boy­cott of Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties. Fol­low­ing the panel, par­tic­i­pants held small dis­cus­sion groups to present their own strate­gies for im­ple­ment­ing such a boy­cott.

Held in Mcgill Arts Build­ing as part of Is­raeli Apartheid Week, the event fea­tured Michelle Hart­man, a pro­fes­sor at Mcgill’s In­sti­tute of Is­lamic Stud­ies; Ralph Had­dad, a mem­ber of Mcgill BDS Ac­tion and an edi­tor at The Daily; and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the An­thro­pol­ogy Grad­u­ate Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion ( AGSA) of Mcgill, who wished to re­main anony­mous.

Aca­demic boy­cott

On an in­ter­na­tional level, the move­ment for an aca­demic boy­cott is spear­headed by the Pales­tinian Cam­paign for the Aca­demic and Cul­tural Boy­cott of Is­rael ( PACBI). PACBI, in turn, is part of the larger Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions ( BDS) cam­paign. The aim of BDS is to pres­sure in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ments into com­ply­ing with in­ter­na­tional law by up­hold­ing Pales­tini­ans’ right to self- de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to PACBI’S web­site, “Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties have played a key role in plan­ning, im­ple­ment­ing and jus­ti­fy­ing Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion and apartheid poli­cies, while main­tain­ing a uniquely close re­la­tion­ship with the Is­raeli mil­i­tary.” The or­ga­ni­za­tion also holds that the ma­jor­ity of Is­raeli aca­demics have, di­rectly or as a re­sult of their si­lence, con­trib­uted to main­tain­ing Is­raeli op­pres­sion of Pales­tini­ans.

“Peo­ple think that the aca­demic boy­cott is against free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion,” said Had­dad, in an in­ter­view with The Daily, “but we need to re­think these rights as uni­ver­sal and start think­ing about them as rights that some peo­ple have and some don’t.”

Had­dad added that Pales­tini­ans do not have the same ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion as Is­raelis do.

“For ex­am­ple,” he said, “Is­rael has re­peat­edly closed schools and uni­ver­si­ties through­out the West Bank as part of its mil­i­tary regime of the area. In one fa­mous doc­u­mented case, Is­raeli sol­diers are seen throw­ing tear gas at a group of chil­dren on their way to school.”

Aca­demic boy­cott of Is­rael, ac­cord­ing to PACBI, in­cludes mea­sures such as re­frain­ing from par­tic­i­pa­tion in aca­demic col­lab­o­ra­tion with Is­raeli in­sti­tu­tions, and with­hold­ing fund­ing from such col­lab­o­ra­tive ini­tia­tives. In­stead, PACBI calls on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to sup­port Pales­tinian aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, and to pass mo­tions in sup­port of BDS at uni­ver­si­ties around the world.

Mcgill’s ties to Is­rael

At Mcgill, the only di­rect Ex­change Pro­grams in the Mid­dle East are with Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties. Stu­dents wish­ing to study at uni- ver­si­ties else­where in the re­gion do not ben­e­fit from the same in­sti­tu­tional sup­port as Ex­change stu­dents do, and must ar­range their own In­de­pen­dent Study Away sin­gle­hand­edly.

“Many of these uni­ver­si­ties are built di­rectly above a razed Pales­tinian vil­lage,” Had­dad con­tin­ued. “The Tech­nion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy man­u­fac­tures weapons for the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion forces, which are field­tested on Pales­tini­ans in Gaza. Mcgill stu­dents ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in this re­search by go­ing on Ex­change to the Tech­nion, of­ten­times given spe­cial awards by Mcgill in or­der to make it eas­ier for them to travel and study there.”

Break­out groups

The AGSA rep­re­sen­ta­tive dis­cussed the suc­cess­ful pass­ing of a BDS mo­tion within AGSA last Jan­uary, and shared in­sight with those present.

Then, once the is­sue at hand had been con­tex­tu­alised by the pan­elists, the at­ten­dees broke up into small groups to strate­gize and trou­bleshoot pos­si­ble ob­sta­cles to an aca­demic boy­cott cam­paign.

Ac­cord­ing to the par­tic­i­pants, one of the is­sues faced by Pales­tinian solidarity ac­tivists is the un­will­ing­ness of other like-minded in­di­vid­u­als to show their sup­port for fear of ha­rass­ment. Many peo­ple keep their sup­port of the cause pri­vate, as it can lead to be­ing pro­filed and targeted.

An­other dif­fi­culty iden­ti­fied by the par­tic­i­pants con­cerned com­mu­nity out­reach. While in­ter­ested in fos­ter­ing open and con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion, par­tic­i­pants said they of­ten it dif­fi­cult to present them­selves as ap­proach­able to those op­pos­ing BDS. As one stu­dent at­tend­ing the panel told the room, “if we re­ally want to counter the anti- BDS cam­paigns, we should go to their events, sit, listen to their ar­gu­ments […], and then counter them dur­ing the Q& A.”

Mov­ing for­ward

In an email to The Daily, writ­ten in French, or­ga­nizer Abir Had­dade ex­plained the ra­tio­nale be­hind the panel and dis­cus­sion:

“The goal was [...] to of­fer more space for the [BDS] move­ment,” she said, “and par­tic­u­larly to the aca­demic boy­cott, which is still not dis­cussed very much as com­pared to other forms of boy­cott.”

“I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the out­come of the event,” Had­dade con­tin­ued. “Sev­eral in­no­va­tive ideas were raised, ac­tu­ally. Michelle [ Hart­man] em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of strength­en­ing ties be­tween the dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties in Mon­treal. Mon­treal is a stu­dent city par ex­cel­lence and know­ing that the BDS move­ment has been par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful on univer­sity cam­puses, it’s a shame for each of us to work on our own.”

One of the break­out groups, she added, had also sug­gested or­ga­niz­ing wine-and-cheese events from time to time.

“We dis­agree? Our ide­olo­gies are in op­po­si­tion? That’s OK, let’s dis­cuss it over drinks. It’s as sim­ple as that,” Had­dade said.

“I think that this meet­ing al­lowed us to get a valu­able sense of the chal­lenges and ob­sta­cles we face,” she fin­ished, “but also to en­gage with ap­proaches which will al­low us to over­come them. Dis­cussing with stu­dents from neigh­bor­ing uni­ver­si­ties (Con­cor­dia and UQAM) was very promis­ing with re­gard to fu­ture col­lab­o­ra­tions. [...] Link­ing Mcgill to the rest of stu­dent life in Mon­treal will only strengthen our lo­cal BDS net­work.”

The aim of BDS is to pres­sure in­sti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ments into com­ply­ing with in­ter­na­tional law by up­hold­ing Pales­tini­ans’ right to self­de­ter­mi­na­tion. “Peo­ple think that the aca­demic boy­cott is against free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion, but we need to re­think these rights as uni­ver­sal and start think­ing about them as rights that some peo­ple have and some don’t.” —Ralph Had­dad Mem­ber, BDS Ac­tion Mcgill Many peo­ple keep their sup­port of the cause pri­vate, as it can lead to be­ing pro­filed and targeted.

Nora Mc­cready | The Mcgill Daily

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