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Montreal activists talk BDS

McGill BDS event series sets the stage for SSMU General Assembly

Last week, the McGill BDS Action Network hosted an event series as part of its campaign leading up to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter 2016 General Assembly (GA), which takes place today. The group’s motion at the GA asks SSMU to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns and to recommend to McGill’s Board of Governors to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The event series, which ran from February 16 to February 20, included a panel discussion with Montreal-based activists, a talk by Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis called “The Moral Case for BDS,” and the screening of three Palestinian short films. The event series ended on Saturday with a concert and open mic event.

Laura Khoury, an organizer with McGill BDS, told The Daily that the event series was organized “to engage [students] in a discussion about the Palestinian cause and to further discuss the call from Palestinian civil society to carry out boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law.”

Panel discussion

The Montreal-based activists on the panel held on February 16 were Palestinian activist Zahia El-Masri and writer and community organizer Mostafa Henaway. The panelists spoke about the BDS movement as “a critical tool” for showing international solidarity, highlighting its importance to the Palestinian struggle.

El-Masri highlighted the significance of raising awareness, especially given the lack of mainstream knowledge about the Palestinian struggle. “What it means to be Palestinian today is to be negated the right of your identity, it’s to be negated the right of return, it’s to even be negated the right to have the collective imaginary of a Palestinianhood,” El-Masri said.

Henaway also argued that the BDS movement is imperative because “it’s coming from Palestinians themselves, and they’re demanding our solidarity in this way.”

Speaking about supporting BDS at McGill specifically, El-Masri said, “Every move that you make, every action, every time you spread the word about what’s going on, don’t underestimate it. It makes a difference.” Henaway pointed to student campaigns for McGill to divest from South African apartheid as an example, and explained that the call for BDS was initiated in Durban, South Africa at the 2001 World Conference against Racism.

“The South African delegation wanted to highlight Zionism as a form of apartheid, as a form [of] discrimination and racial inequality that the international community has to uphold as a priority in terms of Israel’s acceptance of international law,” Henaway said.

The call for BDS, he explained, was founded on “fundamental principles of universal justice – that Palestinians should have the same rights that Israeli citizens are able to have.”

“What it means to be Palestinian today is to be negated the right of your identity, it’s to be negated the right of return, it’s to even be negated the right to have the collective imaginary of a Palestinianhood.”

McGill did not divest from South African apartheid until 1985, and Henaway said that while “we look back now on history and lots of people think, ‘How could anybody support South African apartheid, one of the ugliest forms of a racist, colonial state.’ […] There was complete mainstream support for it. It was ‘a liberal democracy in a sea of barbarism in Africa,’ and it’s the same logic that many people who support Israeli apartheid use today.”

During the discussion period, a student in the audience asked the panelists to respond to an argument commonly made against BDS, which is that it negatively affects citizens of Israel.

Henaway responded, “It’s the status quo that actually hurts Israeli citizens at the moment. It’s the fact that they’re seen as supporting an occupation, it’s the fact that […] it’s mandatory for all Israelis to serve [in]the military, the fact that their state is imploding, all of this as a result of an ongoing colonial project impacts them negatively.”

“By supporting BDS, you’re only basically supporting international law,” El-Masri concluded.

Yusuf, a U1 Economics student who attended the panel discussion, told The Daily, “I found the panel very informative, and they gave me new insight into real situations […] that happen in Palestine on a daily basis. […] It was very easy [to] relate to the points they were making, especially in the context of North America.”


Also listen to the multimedia coverage of the panel, hosted by Anya Sivajothy.