Should academic institutions boycott Israel? That’s the question which a student lobby group, a teacher’s union as well as a Palestinian and Lebanese solidarity group will be discussing here at Concordia on Thursday, Feb. 7. The event is named “Palestine: Solidarity in the Academy.”
The groups are composed of L’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante, or ASSÉ – which encompasses student groups from some French language universities and CEGEPs, as well as the Fédération Nationale des Enseignantes et Enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ), Quebec’s largest CEGEP teacher’s federation as well as Tadamon!, a Montreal-based group highlighting social and political issues in Palestine and Lebanon.
The group compares the Israel-Palestine conflict to apartheid era South Africa, where black South Africans were legally considered second-class citizens in their own land by white settlers and their descendants.
The purpose of the talks is to to show their solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and condemn Israel as an apartheid country. Boycotting Israeli education, or isolating its universities, is the tool that will be used to send their message. An academic boycott for an institution entails refusing to host visiting professors and lecturers from Israel, to send its own professors to Israeli institutions, to subscribe to Israeli academic journals, to create exchange programs and refusing other such academic exchanges. The boycott first appeared in the headlines in the UK in 2002 when British academics first adopted the boycott. The United Kingdom’s Union of University and College Union, the largest of its kind in the UK, has since taken the same position on this issue.
Former Concordia president Claude Lajeunesse disagreed with the practice in a public statement in 2007, assuming the stance of other Quebec institutions such as McGill and Universite de Montreal. He said that universities should foster free exchanges of information unencumbered by religious and political issues.
Although ASSE has not officially agreed to supporting the boycott yet, it is in the process of making a concrete decision on the matter. Sophie Schoen, a member of ASSE, thinks that it is very likely that the organization will eventually go all in.
“There are members in ASSE who think that it is important to take a stand against what’s going on in Palestine,” Schoen said. She also added that the organization has, in the past, taken strong positions against issues like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Toufic Haddad, a Palestinian activist and the author of a book on the Palestine-Israel conflict, and America’s role in it, will also do a presentation.
The Montreal branch of Hillel, a local Jewish students’ organization, could not be reached by press time.
“Palestine: Solidarity In the Academy” will take place Feb. 7 at Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, 2149 Mackay Street at 6:30 p.m.