Governments and media outlets have been nearly unanimous in
condemning the Israeli offensive in Gaza. As the humanitarian crisis reaches new peaks, people are demanding strong stances from their public institutions.
This week the Israeli Central Elections Committee voted to ban Arab political parties from its upcoming elections. With the world focusing on Israel’s offensive in Gaza, eliminating democratic dissent is no way for the country to rebuild its international standing. However, there is little chance for the ban to come into effect, as Israel’s Supreme Court is expected to overturn it.
Here in Canada, Sid Ryan, the President of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), is also endangering peaceful dissent. In December, he proposed a motion demanding all Canadian universities ban any Israeli professor who did not denounce the war in Gaza. While we recognize the right of CUPE executives to their own views, persecuting intellectuals in Canadian universities is no way to further a political cause – not to mention a clear violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The diversity of opinion held by Israelis could easily be explored in Canada – but Ryan hopes to stop any type of discussion by threatening the livelihoods of those most qualified to participate. The motion disregards the complex motivations that have led individuals to arrive at their political beliefs, from heritage and religion, to nationality and political affiliation.
Limiting discussion at a time like this doesn’t help Gazan or Israeli civilians; rather than changing public opinion it forces people with a variety of views into one of two rigid, polarized categories. Universities have long been havens for critical analysis, and as students this is a unique point in our lives when we will likely be exposed to many new ideas. Now, as we find ourselves shaken by the events in Gaza, it’s even more important to hold to that principle.
Students at Concordia protesting the war last week called for Montreal universities to cut ties with Israeli universities unless they make statements condemning the offensive, arguing that if Israeli universities remain silent, they are complicit in the outcome in Gaza. While these demands rightly seek to raise anti-war sentiment in Israel, a multitude of opinions and sentiments exist on any campus, and synthesizing them into a single protocol may only serve to stifle the exchange of ideas.
Israeli students and professors are engaging in discussion over the war, and should continue to do so. At universities in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, hundreds protested for and against Israel’s offensive, as thousands have recently done in Montreal. These demonstrations hopefully reflect the opinions of people in Gaza and Israel who find themselves marginalized by their governments. We urge members within institutions – be they universities, unions, and governments – to keep talking. Shutting down discussion helps no one.