News  Students question Hebrew University partnership

New partnership launched last November; concerns focus on human rights program

A group of students in McGill’s Faculty of Law met with administrators Friday to express their opposition and concerns regarding a new program launched in conjunction with Israel’s Hebrew University.

The faculties participating in  joint initiatives are Medicine, Management, Law, and Agriculture. Specific projects revolve around health and epigenetics, international business, human rights law, and food safety and water management.

Sam Bick, U4 History, spoke about the wider implications of McGill’s association with Hebrew University.

“McGill’s partnership with Hebrew University, as well as the Technion [Israel Institute of Technology], is clear support on the part of University for an apartheid government,” he said. “Beyond tangible effect of the research done at these universities, it’s important to acknowledge the apartheid in education, and Palestinians face multiple levels of unequal access to education.”

Fundraising for the partnership is ongoing, but according to Vice President (Research and International Relations) Rosie Goldstein, $1.5 million has already been raised to fund the partnership by “both McGill donors and CFHU[Canadian Friends of Hebrew University], with the proceeds shared by both universities.”

The initiative was announced in November when CFHU presented the 2010 Scopus Award to McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum. The Scopus Award is the “highest award that the Friends of Hebrew University gives out ” said Carolyn Steinman, director of the Montreal branch of CFHU.

Steinman described the previous relationship between McGill and Hebrew University as “friendly,” though this is the first formal relationship established between the two institutions. She added that Munroe-Blum encouraged the partnership after a visit to Hebrew University.

Goldstein pointed to shared research interests as a factor that lead to the collaboration.

“A trip to Israel in 2008 by a number of senior administrators, for example, led to a conversation between our Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Chandra Madramootoo, and experts there. They realized they had similar research interests, especially around the subject of water, and this led to a joint project in Kenya,” wrote Goldstein in an email to The Daily.

Steinman explained that research in epigenetics “will look at disease in a fundamentally new way by providing novel tools for prediction, diagnosis, and prevention.” She added that the project on food security and water management “will initiate a two-university program to improve the lives of the world’s most disadvantaged people,” she added.

Part of the initiative includes a summer law program called The McGill/Hebrew University Summer Program in Human Rights, which is a collaboration between McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (CHRLP) and the Minerva Centre for Human Rights at Hebrew University. The topic for summer 2011 is “Regulating Internal Diversity.”

McGill Dean of Law Daniel Jutras described the objectives of the program’s human rights component.

“The program explores the human rights implications of the regulation of internal diversity given the very different models inspiring Canada, said to be a ‘multicultural mosaic,’ and Israel, said to be a ‘Jewish and Democratic State,’” wrote Jutras in an email to The Daily.

“This brings up issues of law and identities, discrimination and equality, the integration of immigrants and refugees, and the rights to autonomy and self-determination,” he added.

Jutras said that the concerned students and the CHRLP were engaged in a “fruitful dialogue,” and noted that the groups will continue to communicate over the next several weeks.

Safia Lakhani, a third-year law student, expressed reservations about the program. “I don’t know that the institution we’re partnering with shares the same ideals that McGill does, like democratic dissent, equality and a commitment to human rights,” she said.

Lakhani added that she felt it is “particularly perverse that this program would be called ‘Regulating Internal Diversity,’ when there’s been international criticism of the appropriation of Palestinian land and the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem by the Israeli government.”

“This [program] is particularly worrying about what it says about our standards,” said Lakhani. She stressed the need to consider “what the implications are for the faculty of law, especially our centre for human rights, to endorse this program.”

Goldstein responded to the students’ concerns by stating, “It is likely students have divergent views about all sorts of research that is conducted at McGill and the research partnerships in which the University becomes engaged. McGill, as a leading research-intensive institution, engages with other top-level institutions all over the world.”

“I know that many, many of our students enjoy the incredible experiences international collaborations provide for them,” she added.

Douglas Smith, a member of the Montreal-based Palestine solidarity group Tadamon! called upon McGill to respect the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

“We support BDS, so we’re calling for academic boycott in the frame of the Palestinian call for BDS,” said Smith, a graduate student at Concordia and member of Tadamon! “The Hebrew Universtiy partnership obviously signals a complete ignorance as far as the role of Israeli institutions of higher learning in human rights abuses.”