Last November, McGill announced a new partnership with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem involving collaboration in four specific programs: epigenetics, human rights law, international business, and food safety and water management. These are potentially problematic programs operating in an already oppressive context. The partnership is funded through $1.5 million raised in private donations, including a $500 per plate dinner at which Principal Heather Munroe-Blum was presented with the Friends of Hebrew University’s highest award.
The inaugural human rights law program between McGill’s Centre for Legal Pluralism and Hebrew University’s Minerva Centre for Human Rights will examine the topic of “regulating internal diversity” from a comparative Canadian-Israeli standpoint. The program includes visits with state officials, Israeli Supreme Court justices, and the Israeli human rights NGO community. However, it makes no mention of the ongoing occupation and settlement of the West Bank or restrictions placed on Palestinian movement, economic activity, and personal freedoms. Nor does it mention the blockade of Gaza or continued airstrikes, which have become more intense in recent weeks. Worse yet, the head of the Minerva Centre wrote a report defending the construction and maintenance of the security wall between the West Bank and Israel proper. Through this program, McGill is effectively supporting the legal apparatus that has allowed the state of Israel to systematically discriminate against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories as well as in Israel.
In addition to the specific nature of these two programs, other aspects of the structure and foundation of the Hebrew University are problematic. The University itself has expanded onto occupied land in East Jerusalem and provided scholarships for those who participated in Operation Defensive Shield during the Second Intifada in 2002. The University also removed South African judge Richard Goldstone as an honorary member of its Board of Governors in 2010 after the release of his UN report, which found the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in violation of international law. In a direct tie with the Israel Defence Force, the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus includes a military base on its land.
Regardless of one’s opinion on various forms of boycott of Israeli academic institutions, McGill’s partnership needs to end. In addition to the various worrisome connections and actions of the Hebrew University, this particular program focuses on one of the most pressing humanitarian concerns in Israel-Palestine: human rights or “management of internal diversity.” As a result, the partnership not only has the capacity to contribute indirectly to ongoing injustices through institutional ties, but also has the very real possibility of making an already dire situation even worse.