Prompted by recent events in the Gaza Strip, dozens of McGill professors and employees have signed a petition in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, and an academic boycott of Israeli institutions.
Professors from Concordia University, Université de Quebec À Montreal, Université de Montreal, and numerous other postsecondary institutions in Quebec have also signed the document.
The petition, published last Saturday in Le Devoir, was compiled in response to a January 22 call by the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees urging academics world-wide to denounce the Israeli occupation and its repeated violations of international law.
Many of the petition’s signatories expressed exasperation with Israeli policies, including the continued blockade of Gaza. They felt boycotts could be a peaceful way of pressuring the Israeli government to comply with international law.
“What else is there?” asked McGill professor and signatory Abby Lippman. “The UN has provided resolutions; Israel hasn’t listened. The world has condemned what’s been done; Israel hasn’t listened. This is a peaceful way of saying ‘No.’”
Adrienne Hurley, another McGill professor, supported the petition because of Israeli air strikes on Palestinian- and United Nations-sponsored schools, and an Israeli ban on reporters, researchers, and aid workers to the Gaza Strip.
“To me, it’s very important to send the message that this is not acceptable, that knowledge is important,” she said.
The academic boycott, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the campaign, seeks to isolate Israeli universities on the international scene. According to the BDS website, such institutions help maintain the intellectual theories and justifications that underpin the occupation and Israeli policies of discrimination.
Lippman said the initiative is not directed at individual Israeli scholars. She noted, though, that the boycott would prevent McGill from partnering with Israeli universities, or collaborating on research projects.
McGill Professor Wael Hallaq felt that Israeli academics have a moral responsibility to speak out against the state’s treatment of the Palestinian population.
“Academics are a little more detached from the world of politics. Israeli scholars…are the only group of scholars in the world that I know that serve in the army systematically. And at the same time they are scholars. They can make a difference,” Hallaq explained. They can, for example, become refuseniks. They can criticize; they are in powerful positions. They are also judges…. They are in government committees…. They can work from the inside…. If they cannot do this much then all of us are in trouble.”
Launched in 2005, BDS is modelled after a campaign applied to apartheid-era South Africa, and is supported by more than 170 Palestinian organizations. It attempts to pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and to dismantle the Separation Barrier. The campaign also calls on Israel to recognize the rights of Palestinian-Israelis, and the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Support for the BDS initiative has gained ground in Quebec. In June, L’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), a student union representing over 42,000 students, voted to actively endorse the campaign. The Federation National des Enseignants et Enseignantes du Quebec (FNEEQ-CSN) has also voted to support the boycott.